Armed with a bicycle and – in her early days – a gun, writer Dervla Murphy forged her own path


Dervla Murphy, who died aged 90, was a renowned travel writer who in 1963 left her home in Lismore, Co Waterford, and traveled through Europe and Asia to India.

the resulting book, Full Tilt: From Ireland to India by bike, published in 1965, was a bestseller and set the pattern for the rest of his life. In his book Cheap to Coorgshe took her four-year-old daughter Rachel with her.

She then traveled through Nepal, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Transylvania, Cuba, the Middle East and other faraway destinations, documenting her adventures in 26 highly regarded travel books, which were written at the hand before being sent to the publisher.

“Murphy finds humor in situations most of us would consider uncomfortable, and his writing bursts with a love of humanity in its myriad manifestations,” says the quote about him in the book. Modern Irish Lives.

She always came back to her home, an old 17th-century stone barn in the historic town of Lismore, where she lived alone with her books (and no television), telling a recent visitor that she was “addicted to solitude”.

“I’ve never done anything that an ordinary person can’t do,” she told an interviewer at the FinancialTimes, earlier this year. “I didn’t do anything extreme; you will say… I have never done anything very daring.

She traveled through remote parts of the world in her stride, often alone and at first armed with a gun. She made friends with ordinary people on her travels, whether by bicycle, mule or other means of transportation other than the automobile.

The result was a form of travel writing that influenced a new generation of free-spirited travelers by describing real experiences rather than enjoying luxury travel.

Dervla was born in Co Waterford in 1931, where her father, Fergus, was the county librarian. She said her passion for travel was sparked by a 10th birthday gift of a bicycle and an atlas. She was educated at the Ursuline convent in Waterford, but left school at 14 to spend the next 16 years caring for her elderly mother, Kathleen, until her death.

In 1968, she became a single mother. She recalled in a recent interview that her neighbors were very kind and considerate, but were outraged when she took the naked baby out in the pram, to enjoy the sun.

Her first expedition to India and her subsequent travels around the world were funded by renting her house and, as she became more well known, royalties from her earlier books.

She remained a maverick who, even at 90, did not believe in “fitting in”. She drank beer, raised her child on her own terms, and had no time for what she called the “crass materialism” of the modern age, including the excesses she witnessed in Ireland at the time. age of the Celtic tiger.

She told Jude Webber that she was “always mistaken for a man” because of her deep voice and demeanor, which sometimes involved determinedly fending off bandits and thieves.

She also had a deep curiosity to see things for herself, whether in Israel or Northern Ireland, which she visited during one of the worst years of the Troubles.

The resulting book, A place apart (1972), won the Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize. She also published a memoir from her childhood, wheels within wheels.

In political terms, she described herself as “an ordinary Irish republican”, but on the subject of a united Ireland she hoped politicians would “not rush and spoil”.

Dervla Murphy is survived by her daughter Rachel and her granddaughters, Rose, Clodagh and Zea. “His contribution to writing, and travel writing in particular, had a unique commitment to the value of the human experience in all its diversity,” said President Michael D Higgins, paying tribute.


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