Miss Kate Murphy was born in Fostragh, Killoe, Co Longford, Ireland on 6 October 1893.
She was the daughter of Michael Murphy (b. 1841), a farmer, and Maria Lyons (b. 1845), who had married in the Ballinalee Roman Catholic Church in Granard, Co Longford on 24 October 1872.
The youngest of twelve children born to her parents, with seven surviving into adulthood, Kate's known siblings were: John (b. 8 June 1874), Anna Maria (b. 24 May 1875), Patrick (b. 10 October 1880), Bridget (b. 1881), Rose Ellen (b. 1884), Margaret (b. 17 March 1887), Michael (b. 22 July 1889) and Mary (b. October 1892). Her brother Michael died from quinsy aged eleven months on 24 June 1890 whilst sister Mary died from whooping cough aged two months on 12 December 1892. Another unidentified child was also lost in infancy.
Kate and her family appear on the 1901 and 1911 Irish censuses living at house 20 and house 29, respectively, in Fostragh. By the time of the latter record she and her sister Margaret were still at home and without any stated profession. Her father would die from heart disease later that year on 28 June 1911.
Several of Kate’s siblings lived in the USA and sister Maggie had spent brief years there but returned home sometime prior to 1911. Around that year an old neighbour from Fostragh returned to the village to pay a visit from his new home in Jersey City, New Jersey, John Kiernan. John and Maggie fell in love and hoped one day to marry once Kiernan had fully established a home back in America. When the time came for Kiernan to leave, Margaret had promised her mother to remain in Ireland until such times as her fiancé was settled and financially sound, but the thought of separation was out of the question so she, along with her younger sister Kate, made clandestine plans to slip away at the same time and join other siblings already in the USA: sister Annie lived in Brooklyn and brother Patrick is believed to have lived in Philadelphia. It was to the latter city that Kate and Maggie were headed to and they boarded the Titanic at Queenstown on 11 April 1912 as third-class passengers (joint ticket number 367230 which cost £15, 10s). The pair slipped away without the knowledge of their friends and family, as Maggie later related:
The night before the little group in our village was to leave to go aboard the Titanic, together with several other young women and men, I slipped away from my home, carrying all the clothes I could, and went to the Kiernan home, where a farewell party was being held. At that time I had promised to wait at home, until Mr Kiernan would come to this country and make a place. Then I was going to join him. But the thoughts of being separated from him was too much for me and I decided to run away from home. - Altoona Times, 2 May 1912
Whilst aboard the sisters shared a cabin on E-deck with two other Longford girls, Kate Gilnagh and Kate Mullin, and they were also acquainted with others from Longford, besides John Kiernan and his young brother Philip, including James Farrell and Thomas McCormack, the latter reportedly being a relative, possibly a second cousin. They possibly also associated with the McCoy siblings (Agnes, Alice and Bernard) and Ellen Corr, also from Longford, whilst aboard.
On the night of the sinking, the sisters later recalled crewmen blocking their way up to the upper decks and they recalled seeing lifeboats leaving the ship only partially full. She also reported scuffles breaking out between some third-class men and crewmen determined to keep the steerage in their place whilst she saw women and children deep in prayer nearby. Lore has it that it was the intervention of Longford man James Farrell, who threatened to punch a crewman if he did not let the women past to the boats, who became the women's saviour.
Kate, her sister and the two Kates from Longford were rescued in lifeboat 16, alongside an interloper, Thomas McCormack. The Kiernan brothers and James Farrell were lost in the sinking.
Upon landing in New York Kate had shaved a few years from her age and was described as a 16-year-old domestic. She and her sister gave their next of kin as their brother John back in Ireland whilst their destination was given as to the home of their sister Bridget Toomey in Manhattan. They were greeted by family and friends at the Cunard pier.
"Misses Margaret and Katie Murphy, natives of Fostora [sic], Drumard, Co. Longford, survivors of the Titanic wreck."
The Advocate, 27 April 1912
Following recuperation in St Vincent's Hospital Kate and Maggie accompanied their friend Matthew O'Reilly and his sister to their home at 17 City Hall Place, New York and whilst there a portrait of the pair was taken and later printed in The Advocate, an Irish-American newspaper, on 27 April 1912.
Kate was married in Corpus Christi Roman Catholic Church in Manhattan on 17 July 1913 to Michael Guilfoyle, whose brother Denis had been married to Kate's sister Anna the previous year; the pair met through their respective siblings.
Michael Joseph Guilfoyle (b. 13 September 1889) was born in Cregg, Co Clare, Ireland, son of shopkeeper Michael Guilfoyle and the former Bridget Hogan. He had migrated to the USA in November 1907 aboard Cedric, becoming a Brooklyn policeman and later an inspector for the US customs service.
Kate’s signature from her son’s passport
Kate and Michael made their home in New York and had three children: Marie Josephine (b. 2 June 1914), Michael Joseph (b. 8 August 1916) and Rita Catherine (b. 16 January 1919). In the late 1910s the family lived in Brooklyn.
By the time of the 1920 census they were living at East 38th Street and on the 1930 census at Third Avenue, both in Manhattan. The 1940 census shows the family living in Brooklyn. Around the early 1930s the family acquired a second home in rural Swan Lake, Sullivan County, New York to where Kate and Michael eventually retired and where they dabbled in real estate.
Although Kate never returned to Ireland, in December 1919 she sent her three-year-old son Michael to the old country to spend time with Kate’s mother. The boy’s grandmother was most anxious to meet him and intended leaving to him her estate upon her death. The visit turned into years and young Michael and his mother were not reunited until May 1924. Kate’s mother Maria later died on 29 April 1929.
Kate never cared to discuss the Titanic disaster in later years and she was fated to outlive her sister Margaret with whom she escaped the sinking, the latter passing away in 1957.
Mrs Guilfoyle and her husband Michael spent their final years living at their Swan Lake home where on 2 October 1962 Michael passed away following a protracted illness.
Kate lived just short of a further six years and passed away on 24 September 1968 whilst visiting relatives in Brooklyn. Only weeks shy of her 75th birthday (although her death notices stated she was 68), Kate and her husband are buried together in St Peter's Cemetery in Sullivan, New York.
Her daughter Marie (later Mrs John Garry) died in Florida on 22 October 1996. Son Michael, later a WWII veteran, remained in New York where he died on 3 October 1981. Kate’s last surviving child Rita (later Mrs Floyd Townsend) died in Florida on 22 September 2016 aged 97.