By michael McKenna:
S.L. Augustine ‘Gus’ Murphy – Section Commander No. 4 Section ASU
The Active Service Unit of the Dublin Brigade was established at a meeting in Great Denmark Street in 1919 under the command of Oscar Traynor. Four sections were created, Lieut. Frank Flood was placed in command of Sections 1 and 2 on the north side of the city and Lieut. Johnny Dunne in command Sections 3 and 4 on the south side. Frank Flood was a UCD student and a close friend of Kevin Barry’s and it is very likely that he knew Bobbie Bonfield.
There were about 50 members of the ASU in total. Unit headquarters was at Eustace Street and No. 4 Section was based in the Brickworks in Dolphin’s Barn and covered an area stretching from there to Thomas Street in the north and Inchicore to the west. The Section Commander (equivalent of Sergeant) of No. 4 Section was Gus Murphy and other members of the section included Joe McGuinness , Paddy Rigney, later a prominent anti-Treaty fighter, Padraig O’Connor and James Harpur, who were both later to become prominent officers in the Free State Army. James Harpur later recalled how the section was organised;
“G.H.Q. Intelligence Section collected data for jobs. The action to be carried out was an execution it was passed on by the Intelligence Section to the Squad who were a special unit to deal with such matters. If the action was an ambush it was passed on to the appropriate Active Service Unit. In addition, the ASU had its own Intelligence Section which was with the 3rd Battalion. This Section collected information which it passed on to the ASU Headquarters in Eustace Street. The 4th Section Headquarters was in the Brickworks in Dolphins Barn. The Section Commander, Gus Murphy would attend at Unit Headquarters each morning and bring whatever instructions he received back to us at Dolphins Barn.”
S.L. Augustine ‘Gus’ Murphy was the son of John and Ester Murphy from Balantona, Manor Kilbride, Co. Wicklow, but at this point he was living in Watkin’s Buildings, The Coombe, Dublin. Watkin’s Buildings housed workers from the nearby Watkins Brewery so it is likely that he or a member of his family worked there. The brewery brewed ale and stout.
On Holy Thursday, 24th March 1921 Murphy led a unit to assassinate the Chief Clerk of the Ballykinlar internment camp who had recently moved to live in the Crumlin area. The Clerk was held up on Cork Street but instead of surrendering, he drew his gun. He was immediately shot and wounded so seriously that he was confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. In the exchange of fire a young girl called Keegan was also tragically killed.
The following day Murphy and two other members of the ASU (one of whom was probably Paddy Rigney) were unarmed and on their way to Mount Argus when they were stopped by British troops who also appeared to be unarmed. They refused to put their hands up and got to grips with the soldiers. In the ensuing melée Murphy was shot in the stomach when one of the soldiers produced a mall revolver from his sleeve. He died later that day in the Meath Hospital. So in a tragic twist of fate in the Meath hospital on Good Friday 1921 lay the critically wounded Clerk while in the mortuary of the same institution lay the dead bodies of Murphy and the little Keegan girl.
Gus Murphy was very popular with his men and he was given a full military funeral by the IRA. He was buried in his home town in Wicklow and Michael Sweeney took over as Section Commander of No. 4 Section. Sweeney was a ferocious fighter who was to be involved in organising and participating in many actions against British troops in the area over the coming months.
Paddy Rigney later told his son that they were able to identify the British soldiers involved in Murphy’s death and the pubs they frequented. They bided their time and avenged their comrades’ death.
In his Witness Statement Padraig O’Connor states;
“Gus Murphy was made Sergeant after Sweeney went to hospital and shortly after he was made Sergeant he was in a scuffle with two soldiers in Charlemount Street. He was badly wounded and was taken to the Meath Hospital, where he died almost immediately.”
However, O’Connor seems to be getting mixed up here as Gus Murphy died on Good Friday 25th March 1921, while the Halfway House ambush took place on 5th May 1921. So it would appear that Sweeney replaced Murphy as Section Commander, rather than the other way around.