Murnaghan, George (1847–1929), businessman, farmer, and politician, was born 4 July 1847 in Greenan, Loughbrickland, Co. Down, the fourth of nine children of James Murnaghan, a local farmer, and his wife Rose (née Mulligan). He attended the Royal School, Armagh, from 1864 to 1866, possibly on a scholarship, before emigrating in 1867 to America where he settled in St Louis, Missouri. There, he flourished as a successful housebuilder and keeper of a livery stable, based in Easton Avenue. In 1877 he married Angela Mooney, originally of Drumcondra, Dublin.
He returned to Ireland in 1887, wealthy enough to buy (1888) Lisanelly House and demesne in Omagh, where he engaged in dairy and livestock farming and had other local business concerns. He took an active interest in local affairs and was JP for Tyrone, member of the poor law reform commission, and chairman of the Omagh union board of guardians and the Omagh rural district council (1899–1924). In 1895 he was selected as nationalist parliamentary candidate for Mid Tyrone, was elected, and sat for fifteen years (1895–1910). In parliament he confined himself to speaking, regularly but briefly, on constituency matters and on the Irish bills. Although he was not a lawyer, two of his sons were and may have been inspired by his enthusiasm for the discipline – his parliamentary interjections reveal a close interest in legal matters and a willingness to take issue with different clauses of various bills. In 1898 he spoke twenty-eight times on the local government of Ireland bill. He early identified himself with T. M. Healy (qv) and enjoyed the support of the Omagh clergy, termed the ‘Healyite priests’ by John Dillon (qv). Clerical support meant that he was left undisturbed by the party's efforts to purge itself of Healyism at the 1900 and 1906 elections, but at the January 1910 election the party, reinforced by the strength of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, ran John Valentine as its official candidate. The clergy and other supporters withdrew and nominated Murnaghan as an independent nationalist in defiance of the selection convention. This split the nationalist vote and the party lost Mid Tyrone to the unionists, although they regained it ten months later with the Redmondite candidate, Richard McGhee.
Murnaghan's defeat by Valentine, who polled 836 votes more than his rival, exposed the limitations of clerical authority; it also led to long-lasting bitterness between the ‘Murnaghanites’ and ‘Redmondites’ in Tyrone. Six years later, when the home rule party began to entertain the idea of partition, Murnaghan acted as éminence grise to the anti-partitionists, who on 1 June 1916 signed a well-publicised resolution, known as the ‘Omagh remonstrance’, rejecting any form of partition. George Murnaghan jr, a solicitor, was among the five signatories who, two months later, set up a short-lived political party, the Irish Nation League, which was anti-Redmondite and anti-partition. A year later it merged with Sinn Féin.
Murnaghan sr maintained his interest in local affairs – he was vice-chairman of the Tyrone county council for ten years – before largely retiring from public life in 1924. He died at home in Lisanelly House on 13 January 1929. His most impressive achievement was probably founding a talented dynasty; of his six children, James Murnaghan (qv) became a celebrated judge; George Murnaghan, jr, was a solicitor and political activist; Francis Dominic Murnaghan (qv) was professor of mathematics in Baltimore, Maryland. His daughters married Professor F. E. Hackett (qv) and Professor William J. Williams, both of UCD. His grandchildren included the barrister and politician Sheelagh Murnaghan (qv), the physiologist Maurice Francis Murnaghan (qv), and the UCD history professor T. Desmond Williams (qv).