Ted Murphy obituary: Expert on Ireland’s historic links to French wine

Lifelong research produced a book tracing Irish wine links back to ancient monastic life

Ted Murphy

Ted Murphy


Born: April 23rd, 1935
Death: April 13th, 2021

Ted (Thaddeus J) Murphy, who has died aged 85, is best associated with the Winegeese, a term he coined out of the Wild Geese, for those families who in the 17th and 18th centuries fled from Ireland to Bordeaux among other locations,where they were safe from rebellion, violated treaties, suppression of religion and anti-commerce legislation. He spotted a thread to wine, and in a few years had files filled with facts and surprising links.

He started with the Lawtons, the oldest wine-broking family in Bordeaux, who had owned substantial land in west and north Cork. The original Hugh Lawton had been mayor of Cork in 1776, a banker and a wine merchant. A descendent of his, another Hugh (Hugues), introduced Murphy to other families in Bordeaux, and led to his fascination, often obsession, with the rich history of the connections between Ireland and the wines of the world.

Murphy researched existing wine families, frequently travelling to vignerons, who became friends and whose history he could reveal with detailed embellishment. New World winery owners were delighted to celebrate their connections with Ireland and to be included in the same book as prestigious wine families in France. Among many others are Barton, Hennessy, Lawton, McCarthy, Lynch, Kirwan, McMahon. Their legacy is echoed in Bordeaux street names such as Rue McCarthy, O’Reilly, Sullivan. Place Mitchell is named after Peter (Pierre) Mitchell who came from Dublin, and along with barrel and winemaking, established the first glass-bottle factory in Bordeaux in 1723. He built Château du Tertre, which is now an upmarket B&B.

Best book

Murphy’s book A Kingdom of Wine: A Celebration of Ireland’s Winegeese was published in 2005. It traces the origins of Ireland’s interest in wine back to ancient Ireland’s monastic life, and achieved The Best Book in the World for Wine History at the World Gourmand Awards in Beijing, China. In 2007 Murphy received an honorary doctorate from University College Cork in recognition of his lifelong research and scholarship in wine history.

As a result of nudging from Murphy, a 9ft-high portrait of Abraham Lawton, once held in storage, now hangs on the staircase of the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork, while that family’s legacy in the wine trade continues in Bordeaux, headed by the influential Pierre Patrick Lawton, a frequent visitor to Ireland.

Murphy further underlined these Irish connections as a driving force behind the International Museum of Wine, housed in Desmond Castle in Kinsale, which opened in 1997.

He was born the youngest of four in Cork to parents Ted, a salesman, and Kathleen (nee Collins), who moved to the city from west Cork before he and his three older siblings were born. Ted grew up in Montenotte and Patrick’s Hill, and attended North Monastery primary and Christian Brothers secondary schools in Cork, where he excelled in sport.

Gathering a posy

He worked as manager of Douglas shopping centre for 15 years, and earlier for 35 years as a wine rep for wine merchants Gilbeys of Ireland – an offer of a car was irresistible to the 17-year -old.

Murphy was regularly invited to speak at dinners and events, many organised by the Ireland Funds WineGeese Society, of which he was honorary chairman. He was a member of the Commanderie du Bontemps de Médoc et des Graves, and of the Order of the Chevaliers Bretvins. He is remembered for Coco Television Production’s six-part television series The Wine Geese, first shown in 1990. He was a director of Château de la Ligne in Bordeaux.

He modestly introduced his book with the words of the philosopher Michel Eyquem de Montaigne: “I have gathered a posy of other men’s flowers, and nothing but the thread that binds them is my own.”

He is survived by his daughters, Gwen, Caroline, Jillian, Judy and Ruth; his son, Ted jnr; and his 13 grandchildren.