Brid Murphy

By | June 5, 2008

Note: this is last week’s column and the unedited version. But I did hear Karen Coleman quote from it on The Wide Angle on Newstalk on Sunday and it sounded intact.

It’s always hard trying to figure people out from newspaper reports. Brid Murphy, wife of the spectacularly indebted runaway solicitor Michael Lynn, is either hard as nails or soft as rotting fruit. Last week she argued in court she was entitled to some of the proceeds of the sale of their trophy house, Glenlion, because she had no idea he was taking out multiple mortgages on their home. According to her she was an innocent, drawn into a fraud that made her not only homeless but possibly liable for some of their heroically enormous debts. He asked her to sign documents, which she did obediently, trusting him because he was her husband and a solicitor. According to her, he forged her signature on other documents. Her defence was a mixture of Nuremberg (“I was only following orders”) to Victimology (“I had a breast cancer scare and wasn’t paying attention”).

The only problem was she also testified that her marriage is intact and she spent the previous weekend with him in Bulgaria. He even picked her up from the airport. What are we to make of that?

If most women woke up one morning to find themselves homeless, facing multi-million euro debts and the realisation that their husband was a lying, thieving cad, you’d assume they’d be first in the queue after him. As she has taken the road less travelled we have to decide that she’s either telling porkies to the court and was fully aware of the frauds, or she has forgiven him. In this case I choose to believe the latter if only because I don’t want to turn into a bitter, wizened old witch who sees nothing but the worst in people. If she loves her husband her chief concern is for his welfare. Keeping in touch with him maybe her only hope of saving him from himself. Such compassion is commendable and the world would be a better place were her behaviour the exception rather than the rule.

But here comes the “but”. She made one monumental error, one that many other women have made and continue to make. Before marrying Murphy was a nurse, a job she promptly abandoned after her wedding so she could “devote herself to her marriage”. There were no children to care for so I really have no idea what “devoting oneself to a marriage” means. Perhaps its means getting lots of beauty treatments and wearing nice clothes so he won’t leave you. Does it entail constantly redecorating your house to encourage him to stay in it? Maybe it allows you to pick him up from the airport when he comes home from a hard week robbing people’s money. Maybe that’s what it takes to preserve a marriage. But in the process she allowed herself to become financially dependent on a man. Big mistake.

When my mother got married her mother gave her a heifer and a piece of advice: always have your own money and never tell him what you do with it. The heifer produced a calf and formed the basis of her independent income. As my parents bought land over the years, one field was put into my mother’s name and is referred to as “Betty’s field”. It’s hers to do with as she pleases.
On the other side of my family, my great-grandfather ensured that his daughters, of which he had 7, were all properly educated and trained. It might have been the early 1900’s but he wanted them to have an independent means of income.

My grand-aunt Edith was one of the first women students in Trinity College winning a gold medal in Spanish. My grandmother, Sally, earned a degree in Music from the Royal Academy in London and became a piano teacher. It was a good job she did because life didn’t turn out as lucratively as it began. Granny married a farmer and bore her children in the 1930’s just when De Valera’s Economic War was destroying Irish agriculture. What he began, the Land Commission and my grandfather’s wild entrepreneurial schemes and love affair with drink finished. He died relatively young and she supported herself for the following forty years. Till she was well into her eighties, Granny’s piano teaching fed her.

This is my feminist heritage. No matter what, preserve your own source of income, and like my mother’s mother said, never let him know what you do with it. My husband and I have just one joint account into which we put money given to us as wedding presents. I have my own current account, my own credit card and my own savings account. When I see something I want and think I can afford it, I buy it. As a matter of course, I knock about one third of the price when the purchase appears in the house and my husband still grumbles that I overspend. If I had to ask for the price of the item, be it a new dress, linen or a piece of art I’d consider myself humiliated. I don’t check his credit card bill; he doesn’t check mine. I don’t think we’ve ever argued about money. This is equality.

When my children were babies and I wasn’t working I still had the children’s allowance. Though its fashionable for men to complain that this payment is made to mothers and not fathers, there are sound reasons why that system has been preserved. Too many men were gamblers, drinkers and thieving solicitors. Women could be trusted to use that money for the right reasons and it was often the only way they could get money without asking for it. This was true decades ago and for many women, it’s still the case. My male friends call working wives the “laying hens”, no coincidence that it refers to the practice of rural women preserving the “egg money” for themselves.

Money is power and any woman who thinks that’s not important should think about this. Let’s say your husband was made redundant tomorrow and you got a job that kept everyone. How do you think your husband would feel if he had to ask you for some money to buy new clothes? If he felt like a weekend away with the lads? If he thought the car needed upgrading. Does that bring a little smirk to your face? A little table-turning would be fun wouldn’t it? “What? €250 on a new suit? Why don’t you go to Dunnes? What do you need it for anyway? Honestly, men!” There’s just been a huge power shift in that relationship and I can guarantee he wouldn’t like it. People need their own money. It demands respect from their partner and creates self-respect.

Brid Murphy kept her name when she got married. If she’d kept her job she’d be considerably better off today.

12 thoughts on “Brid Murphy

  1. Ciaran Buckley

    Nicely written piece and a very sensible money arrangement. Well done.

    However. Given that your husband isn’t an alcoholic or thieving solicitor, surely the children’s allowance should go into the joint account? Purely on a point of principle. I understand that, for good reason, the DSW won’t allow it to go into a man’s account, but they will allow it to go into a joint account.

    Also intrigued that you were a Land Commission dispossessed family that managed to get a Land Commission farm. Given the political and class criteria that the Land Commission used and abused when distributing land, it must be unusual to be on both sides of the divide.

  2. James

    “Women could be trusted to use that money for the right reasons”
    Just as many women drink, gamble or smoke away the children’s allowance as men do. The allowance is supposed to be spent on what children need, I think saying women would do a better job than men is wrong and sexist.

  3. Sarah Post author

    Well the Children’s Allowance does go into an account in my name, but its strictly a savings account which is for their future, be it college or house deposits. BUT I hid the account book. Every now and then he’ll say ” where’s that money, we should be spending that now when we need it”. I’ll say “you’re not getting it, that’s their money for when they go to Trinity.” He says “Trinity. Ha! They’ll go down the mines”. I say “yes dear”. And then he forgets about it for a while.

    My male friends regularly complain that THEY should get the money because they would “invest” it. The wives don’t let go. Feck investments. Zero risk deposit accounts.

    In actual fact, no one of my class or income (which is not that big but still) should be getting it all. It should be means tested. Its outrageous.

  4. Ciaran Buckley

    Yes, I was going to mention the Norma Smurfit syndrome, which is why Fianna Fail at one point suggested the idea of means testing it. (And then dropped the idea of means testing it when they found out that Albert Reynolds wife came up with the idea. Allegedly.)

    I’m glad to hear that you don’t save it all up and spend on one REALLY good pair of shoes, like Norma allegedly did.

    So, are you saying that it’s OK to be controlling about money as long as it is “well-spent/invested”? Isn’t there an economic theory that, to an alcoholic, drink is the best use to which their money can be put. Control-freak tyrant alcoholic spouses around the ‘net will be greatly cheered by this news. :-)

  5. pete

    >Zero risk deposit accounts.

    By the time they go to Trinity, inflation will have eroded away the buying power of the money you’ve saved. It’ll probably be barely enough to keep them in booze for a month. Hardly zero risk.

    As any economic textbook will tell you, “money is a temporary store of value”. The important word here is “temporary”.

  6. An Fear Bolg

    Great piece … I particularly like the bit about separate accounts etc, which was always my mother’s policy. She always said a woman should have the “wherewithall” to support herself if necessary.

    Also excellent point about yer wan keeping her name but not her job.

    Why do some papers paint her as a living saint because of what she must endure? It’s tough I’m sure but she is in contact with him and he is, after all, on the run.

  7. Sarah Post author

    And what would you do with it Pete? Invest in shares? Property? Right now, long terms savings accounts get rates over inflation. Once that remains the case, I’ll steer clear of equity markets.

  8. betty

    Ciaran, When the Careys downsized they bought the current farm as distinct from “granted” it

  9. Todd

    My wife and myself have one joint current account, both wages go into to.
    Saves on bank charges etc…
    We both have personal expenditure, but are mindful of large expenses and will tell partner if we wish to get something largish…

    We don’t hide or lie about our means… Whats the point.

  10. Andrew Lawlor

    ‘…always have your own money and never tell him what you do with it.’

    ‘As a matter of course, I knock about one third of the price when the purchase appears in the house…’

    Sarah, this does not strike me as the basis for a marriage. I’m not saying that you don’t have a great marriage, I don’t know you or your husband and your marriage is none of my business, but as you have bared this part of it and invited comment, I will.

    My wife and I have one joint bank account and one joint mortgage. Everything I earn goes into that account, as does the children’s allowance. My wife stays at home and looks after our two children while I run the business. I don’t, and wouldn’t suggest that the work that I do is any harder or more valuable than my wife’s work in the home. Without her endeavours I could not do the work that I do and vice versa. To squirrel away secret money, as your mother suggested, is distrustful and deceitful would have no place in our marriage which is based on love, openess, trust, sharing etc. Lying to your husband about how much you spend on personal items is just weird. Why do it? Do you simply assume that he constantly lies to you? If so why? However, from what I do know of you from this forum, you seem to be doing well personally and maritally so, like raising kids, there is no one right way to run a marriage. Everyone to their own, as they say, and if it ‘aint broke don’t fix it. A relationship with so much secrecy and deceit at the heart of it, however, does seem quite odd to me. Remember, when poverty comes in the door, love flies out the window. Such individual financial arrangements might work well when times are good, but what about when money is tight?

    ‘Too many men were gamblers, drinkers and thieving solicitors.’

    This comment is just blatant sexism. It is grossly insulting. I’ve worked in the pub business and there are and always were plenty of women who can piss away the house-keeping and the children’s allowance on drink and cigarettes. You probably feel that you can get away with it because you are referring to men. I have noticed more and more recently that the kind of treatment which was routinely meted out to women, and which the women’s lib movenment fought bravely and honourably to end, has been freely churned out to men. The way men are portrayed in advertising these days, as useless simple oafs who could not survive without a woman to mind them. Look at your children’s school books and see how Daddy is frequently portrayed as inept. Women in media have been telling us for the last year that they hope that Hillary Clinton become president because she is a woman. If I was to state that I am relieved that she is out of the race because the last thing we need is a woman in charge, I would be slammed for it, and rightly so.

    ‘Money is power and any woman who thinks that’s not important should think about this.’

    Again, marriage is not about power. Marriage should be the one compartment of our lives where power is irrelevant. Call me old fashioned but marriage is about love, marriage is about creating a secure, loving enviornment for your children. Marriage is not about getting one over on your spouse by fooling them into thinking that your new shoes only cost €70.

  11. pete

    Sarah, you are right that at the moment deposit accounts are performing much better than shares and property, and indeed most of my money is currently in Rabodirect earning 4%.

    However, inflation is running at 4.3% : , so I know that the value of my money is dropping. That’s what always happens to cash in deposit accounts. If it didn’t, noone would ever take a risk investing in anything.

    When the current financial mess stabilises, I’ll put long-term savings in an index-tracking equity fund (tracking a major stock-market, not Dublin). If I need it at a known future time (like paying college fees, or retirement) I’ll start turning most of it back into cash about 3 years before hand, to avoid the risk being forced to sell up in the middle of a market slump. I am not qualified to give investment advice.

    I don’t think Brid Murphy was wrong or stupid to give up her job, if her and her husband were both happy with that arrangement. You couldn’t really expect her to plan her future on the basis that her husband would turn out to be a mega-fraudster and lose everything. She’ll survive.

  12. Sarah Post author

    Andrew, one big difference between your wife and Brid Murphy – your wife has children to mind. That is a full time job and one worthy of respect and a full entitlement to spend the family income on her personal items. Brid Murphy had no children and I simply can’t respect that decision.
    The right of women to earn their own money, particularly after marriage (1973 and won by us in Europe btw) is an important principal.
    And maybe I’m just particularly independent but I like being able to buy my own things without having to ask for the money and justify the price. My husband does freak at the price of clothes and such things and so do most other husbands I know. I love being able to say “well, its my money I can do what I want with it” (eh, once necessary household expenditure has been covered – I mean my own personal disposable income).

    And like I say, how would you feel if she was the earner and you were the one dependent on her? I truly believe you’d feel a bit differently about it in that case.

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