The title “Denis Murphy’s Polka” does not tell us much about the tune’s history, unfortunately. It may be a tune composed by Denis Murphy, but much more likely is just one of the tunes often played by Denis Murphy. The insertion of a person’s name in a title is almost always a way of paying homage. The person named probably played the tune often at sessions, or taught it to others without giving it a name. There are, however, some exceptions, such as Paddy Fahey who composed many tunes but never named them — as a result they are each called “Paddy Fahey’s #n” (with the n repalced by an actual number).
Denis Murphy (1910-1974) was born to musical family in an area called Sliabh Luachra (pronounced Schleeav-lokhra, with the ‘kh” as that middle-of-the-mouth growly bit). It is a region at the intersection of three counties, Cork, Kerry, and Limerick; and it well-known (among those who know, anyway) for its identifiable musical style, and for producing some of the great southern Irish players. Denis Murphy, born on the Kerry side to Bill and Mainie (née Corbett) Murphy, is a fiddler with a great pulsing rhythm, bursting with clear ornaments. He lived in the U.S. for a while, from the 1930’s to around 1964 when he moved back to Ireland. He and his younger sister Julia Clifford (1919-1997) were both taught fiddle by the legendary Padraig O’Keeffe (1887-1963) — the Patrick O’Keeffe Traditional Music Festival has been held in October every year since 1993 in Castleisland, co. Kerry.
A Kansas City based Irish-rock group, The Elders (pictured above at O’Mally’s in Weston, MO), use this tune in their song “Story of a Fish.” It is also in a Planxty set, “Denis Murphy’s Polka > £42 Cheque > Sean Ryan’s Polka” on their LP Cold Blow and A Rainy Night (1974) — the CD was released in 1989 and 2005. It’s also on the Planxty LP The Planxty Collection (1976), which in 1989 came out on both CD and cassette tape.
For the ABC click Denis Murphy’s Polka
Denis Murphy’s Polka, med tempo (fiddle, Glen Pekin)
Denis Murphy’s Polka, the dots