Mick Murphy, one of Ireland’s most colourful sportsmen, has died.

Murphy was known as ‘the Iron Man’ following his epic 1958 win in the Rás Tailteann cycling stage race.

Over his 80-plus years, the eccentric Kerry man was a cyclist, wrestler, boxer, runner, farmer, circus performer, fire eater, ventriloquist and bricklayer.

 

He lived in a simple home outside Cahersiveen without electricity or running water and with few modern conveniences. He joked that he modelled it on a 'chicken shack'.

This basic lifestyle mirrored his race preparations, which included sleeping in hay barns, eating raw meat and even drinking cow’s blood.

“I was a different breed. I used to attack and go away from the bunch. I have no doubt about it; I was the greatest solo rider in Ireland"

He trained using homemade stone weights, he once raced for four days with a broken collarbone during the Rás and was said to do 40 miles on his bike after a stage just to cool down.

He said he learned about drinking cow’s blood from the Masai warriors of East Africa.

Murphy pared down a knife into a sharp point and would pierce the animal in the thigh and drain a glassful of blood, which he believed gave him strength.

“Attack is the best defence. Attack after attack. I was a different breed. I used to attack and go away from the bunch. I have no doubt about it; I was the greatest solo rider in Ireland because I surged, I surged, I surged,” he said.

“We were known as the riff-raff of the road. The convicts of the road.”

His 1958 win in the Ras Tailteann, which at the time was one of Ireland’s leading sporting events, is the stuff of legend.

He came from nowhere to take honours having only taken up cycling the previous year and it’s then that he earned his well-deserved nickname.

During the ’58 race, mechanical failure forced him to abandon his bike on a stage to Clonakilty in Cork and so as not to lose time he took a bike from a shocked local farmer herding his cows.

The old boneshaker had no gears and was too heavy, but Murphy buried himself to ensure that he didn’t lose much time on the leaders and this kept him in overall contention.

After his third Rás in 1960 he never cycled competitively again.

Earlier in his life he was left deaf in his right ear following a punch from a heavyweight in the boxing ring. Murphy was a far smaller welterweight.

His first sporting pursuit was wrestling and during an early stint in London he was a leading fighter on the English circuit.

He left school early in order to work and help his family, but his mother taught him to read and he devoured books all his days.

As late as 1998 he was performing circus tricks such as sword swallowing, balancing ladders on his chin, fire-eating and walking on his hands, in London’s Covent Garden.

However, a work place fall off scaffolding whilst bricklaying the same year resulted in broken ribs and a collapsed lung.

This lead to his decision to return home to South Kerry following decades on the road around Ireland, Britain and Germany.

In latter years Murphy, born in the early 30s, walked with the aid or two home-made sticks and he refused to draw the state pension.

In an article in the Kerryman earlier this year, well-known Kerry broadcaster and journalist Weesie Fogarty paid tribute to his friend.

"He has brought me in the mind's eye to far away places as he recounted his experiences working with circuses, farmers, on the bogs of Ireland on the motorways of Germany and of course his memorable exploits on the bike," wrote Fogarty.

"Yes, he is eccentric, yes he is a loner, yes he is different, yes he dresses unlike others but he is one of the most charismatic, fascinating, enthralling, and strictly honest men I have ever been privileged to know."