Dervla Murphy is Ireland’s most prolific travel writer who for five decades has travelled the world mostly alone, and mostly by bicycle. A fiercely independent woman who turned her back on societal conventions at a time when few were as brave, she observed and recorded the world with wonder and curiosity, and an astute political sensibility. Few have ever explored the world on two wheels as has Dervla Murphy, she joins us to reflect on her literary work and the great journeys she has undertaken.
‘An extraordinary book, reflecting an extraordinary woman and one of the great travellers of our time.’William Trevor, on Wheels Within Wheels in The Times
Murphy’s extraordinary autobiography, Wheels Within Wheels, documents her travelling life since 1963, tracing the her route from Ireland to India by bike, via Afghanistan. Her last journey was to Palestine and is recounted in Between River and Sea: Encounters in Israel and Palestine. Before that there have been some 20 other books, about journeys that have taken her all over the world, from Peru to Pakistan, from Africa, India and Siberia to Cuba, Romania and Laos.
In all her journeys, she has biked, walked or simply improvised her way through countries when bikes broke down or were stolen, or her own limbs proved temporarily untrustworthy. Only weeks into her first journey in 1963, she shot a wolf that threatened attack in rural Yugoslavia by using a gun she had acquired and learnt to use in Ireland, with the support of helpful, if astounded, Lismore gardaí. Nothing thereafter, including increasing age, ever appears to have daunted her. Murphy will join Dorothy Allen in conversation.
Speaker: Dervla Murphy
Dervla Murphy was born on 28 November 1931 of parents whose families were both settled in Dublin as far back as can be traced. Her grandfather and most of his family were involved in the Irish Republican movement. Her father was appointed Waterford County Librarian in 1930 after three years internment in Wormwood Scrubs prison and seven years at the Sorbonne. Her mother was invalided by arthritis when Dervla was one year old. She was educated at the Ursuline Convent in Waterford until she was fourteen, when, because of the wartime shortage of servants, she left to keep house for her father and to nurse her mother. Dervla did this for sixteen years with occasional breaks bicycling on the Continent. Her mother’s death left her free to go farther afield and in 1963 she cycled to India. There she worked with Tibetan refugee children before returning home after a year to write her first two books.
Dervla Murphy’s first book, Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle, was published in 1965. Over 20 other titles have followed. Dervla has won worldwide praise for her writing and has been described as a ‘travel legend’ and ‘the first lady of Irish cycling’. Now in her 80s, she continues to travel around the world and remains passionate about politics, conservation, bicycling and beer. Dervla is now published by Eland.