State papers: Councillor went to San Francisco to get new teeth and jobs

Colourful Cork councillor Bernie Murphy’s visit, which made front-page headlines in the US, caused great embarrassment to Irish diplomats

San Francisco: Cork councillor Bernie Murphy’s antics during his trip to the city left Irish officials red-faced. Photograph: AP Photo/HO/John Storey

San Francisco: Cork councillor Bernie Murphy’s antics during his trip to the city left Irish officials red-faced. Photograph: AP Photo/HO/John Storey

 

Colourful Cork councillor Bernie Murphy left some Irish officials red-faced when he went to San Francisco in 1986 with a self-declared plan to get new teeth and jobs for Cork.

The former sandwich board advertising man had created a major upset by winning a seat on Cork Corporation the previous year. His trip to Cork’s twin city was partly organised by the flamboyant and controversial San Francisco Examiner columnist Warren Hinckle.

He had met him when he went to Ireland the previous year to cover the trip of San Francisco mayor Dianne Feinstein. His articles about gay clubs in Dublin, joyriding and cop-bashing infuriated an Irish diplomat in San Francisco who said they were “snide, offensive and unpleasant” and he described Hinckle as a “muck-raking journalist”.

Hinckle had often written about his support for the Republican cause and there were suggestions that Noraid, which raised funds for the Republican movement, was involved in Murphy’s trip. This set off alarm bells in the Department of Foreign Affairs.

One internal memo noted: “An obvious objective [of the visit organisers] was to embarrass and undermine the consulate” and another said the visit was “a more subtle and insidious means of attempting to undermine the work of the consulate in counteracting Noraid activities”.

Because it was not an official visit, Cork Corporation could not prevent him from going but Murphy told the Cork Examiner: “City Hall told me not to go. But they are only jealous . . . I could not turn down this trip, I would be off my rocker.”

His antics in San Francisco filled many columns for Hinckle, including a front-page story about the fitting of his new false teeth. Another article documented how he arrived at Mayor Feinstein’s office with an empty suitcase, emblazoned with shamrocks, to carry home the one million dollars investment spoken about by Feinstein during her visit to Cork. The mayor did not come out to meet the Cork man.

Bernie Murphy left San Francisco a different man than he came. He had tears in his eyes, teeth in his mouth and cabbage in his pocket

The Department of Foreign Affairs was anxiously watching the coverage and sent a message to the consulate general in San Francisco, asking about the publicity locally. An information note said the leaders of the local Irish community were “extremely concerned about the visit and while being careful to play a discreet role, the consulate was able to obtain a great deal of co-operation in containing the efforts of Hinckle and Noraid”.

‘Cinderella man from Cork’

Hinckle’s column covering the councillor’s departure for Ireland said: “Bernie Murphy, the Cinderella man from Cork, a former sandwich board-walker-turned-politician who can’t read or write and was once so poor he lived like a troll under a bridge, left San Francisco a different man than he came. He had tears in his eyes, teeth in his mouth and cabbage in his pocket”.

I know that you’re aware of our dismay at the manner in which Bernie Murphy was manipulated

Hinckle, who died in 2016, was also an editor and he championed the work of Hunter S Thompson, helping to introduce the no-holds-barred reporting style known as gonzo journalism.

After the trip, a draft letter was prepared for the minister for foreign affairs Peter Barry to thank Mayor Feinstein for her support during the trip. “I know that you’re aware of our dismay at the manner in which Bernie Murphy was manipulated and at the image of Cork and of Ireland which was portrayed in the articles written by Warren Hinckle,” it stated.

Murphy’s departure from San Francisco was not the end of the story because he subsequently sued the Sunday Press for libel over an article about his visit. It described the Irish-American community as being “up in arms” about the visit and included claims it had damaged relations between the two cities.

There was a suggestion the Department of Foreign Affairs could be drawn into the controversy at one point, to substantiate claims made in the article and this caused a flurry of letters and memos involving the attorney general, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Sunday Press.

But matters did not proceed that far as Murphy agreed a settlement for £2,000 and £4,000 towards his costs, in 1989.

Murphy lost his seat in the next election, but he remained a colourful character around Cork city. He died in 2007, aged 72.

Feinstein is now a Democratic senator for California.