Mary Murphy, The Portrush Giantess

by Kate Murphy

The story of Mary Murphy, the Portrush giantess, who lived near the harbor in the 1690s, is a sad one. Mary was over seven feet tall without shoes and was described as very attractive, ‘very well proportioned and with a handsome face.’ It must have been hard for her to have shoes and clothes made to fit her for she was not rich. 

She wasn’t short of suitors. One young local man in particular was in love with her, but she turned them all down in favour of a French sea captain who was passing through the port. Perhaps he lured her with promises of silks and finery and a life of adventure. After marrying her, he gave up his life at sea and toured the countryside exhibiting Mary as an attraction at freak shows. They were very cruel times. If he put her in high heels and gave her a hat she would have seemed even taller.

Mary is said to have danced an Irish jig and sung a folksong for King William and Queen Mary of England who were so delighted with her performance they paid her a fee of one guinea – a lot of money at that time. She must have made plenty of money for her husband. 

However, the story doesn’t end well and Mary’s dreams of fame and fortune came to nothing. She was last seen being exhibited at a sideshow outside Paris in 1701 but by this time her husband had abandoned her and sometime later she died destitute in France, – a long way from lovely Portrush.

Meanwhile, the young Portrush man who was in love with her, took himself off to live as a hermit in a little hut near the Giant’s Causeway where he is said to have died of a broken heart.

Kate Murphy