Dervla Murphy

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Dervla Murphy
Murphy in Tibet in 1965
Murphy in Tibet in 1965
Born (1931-11-28) 28 November 1931 (age 88)
Lismore, County Waterford, Ireland
OccupationCyclist, travel writer
Period1965–2015
GenreTravel (non-fiction)
Notable worksFull Tilt
A Place Apart
Notable awardsChristopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize (1979)
ChildrenRachel
Website
www.dervlamurphy.com

Dervla Murphy (born 28 November 1931) is an Irish touring cyclist and author of adventure travel books for over 40 years.

Murphy is best known for her 1965 book Full Tilt: Ireland to India With a Bicycle, about an overland cycling trip through Europe, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. She followed this with volunteer work helping Tibetan refugees in India and Nepal and trekking with a mule through Ethiopia. Murphy took a break from travel writing following the birth of her daughter, and then wrote about her travels with Rachel in India, Pakistan, South America, Madagascar and Cameroon. She later wrote about her solo trips through Romania, Africa, Laos, the states of the former Yugoslavia and Siberia. In 2005, she visited Cuba with her daughter and three granddaughters.

Murphy has normally travelled alone without luxuries and depending on the hospitality of local people. She has been in dangerous situations; for example, she was attacked by wolves in the former Yugoslavia, threatened by soldiers in Ethiopia, and robbed in Siberia. However, she described her worst incident as tripping over cats at home and shattering her left arm.[1][2]

Early life[edit]

Dervla Murphy was born and brought up in Lismore, County Waterford. Her parents were from Dublin and had moved to Lismore when her father was appointed county librarian. When Murphy was one year old, her mother developed rheumatoid arthritis, from which she suffered for the rest of her life. They were advised not to have any more children and Dervla grew up as an only child. From a young age, Murphy planned to travel:

For my tenth birthday my parents gave me a second-hand bicycle and Pappa [her grandfather] sent me a second-hand atlas. Already I was an enthusiastic cyclist, though I had never before owned a bicycle, and soon after my birthday I resolved to cycle to India one day. I have never forgotten the exact spot, on a steep hill near Lismore, where this decision was made. Half-way up I rather proudly looked at my legs, slowly pushing the pedals around, and the thought came "If I went on doing this for long enough I could get to India."[3]

Murphy attended secondary school at the Ursuline Convent in Waterford but left at age 14 to take care of her disabled mother. During young adulthood she took a number of short trips (between three and six weeks): to Wales and Southern England in 1951; to Belgium, Germany and France in 1952; and two trips to Spain in 1954 and 1956. She published a number of travel articles in the Hibernia journal and the Irish Independent newspaper, but her Spanish travel book was rejected by publishers.[3]

Murphy's first lover, Godfrey, died abroad in 1958 and her father became unexpectedly ill with nephritis, a complication of influenza, and died in February 1961. Her mother's health had been deteriorating for many years, and she died in August 1962. Her mother's death freed Murphy from her domestic duties and allowed her to make the extended trip for which she had long planned:

The hardships and poverty of my youth had been a good apprenticeship for this form of travel. I had been brought up to understand that material possessions and physical comfort should never be confused with success, achievement and security.[3]

Murphy published an autobiography Wheels within Wheels in 1979, describing her life before the journey described in Full Tilt.

Travels and writing[edit]

Full Tilt and other early writings[edit]

In 1963 Murphy set off on her first long-distance bicycle tour, a self-supported trip from Ireland to India. Taking a pistol along with other equipment aboard her Armstrong Cadet men's bicycle (named Rozinante in allusion to Don Quixote's steed, and always known as Roz), she passed through Europe during one of the worst winters in years. In Yugoslavia, Murphy began to write a journal instead of mailing letters. In Iran she used her gun to frighten off a group of thieves, and "used unprintable tactics" to escape from an attempted rapist at a police station. She received her worst injury of the journey on a bus in Afghanistan, when a rifle butt hit her and fractured three ribs; however, this only delayed her for a short while. She wrote appreciatively about the landscape and people of Afghanistan, calling herself "Afghanatical" and claiming that the Afghan "is a man after my own heart". In Pakistan, she visited Swat (where she was a guest of the last wali, Miangul Aurangzeb) and the mountain area of Gilgit. The final leg of her trip took her through the Punjab region and over the border to India towards Delhi. Her journal was later published by John Murray as her first book Full Tilt: Ireland to India With a Bicycle.[4]

After arriving in Delhi, Murphy worked as a volunteer helping Tibetan refugees under the auspices of Save the Children. She spent five months in a refugee camp in Dharamsala run by Tsering Dolma, sister of the 14th Dalai Lama. She then cycled through the Kullu Valley, spending Christmas in Malana. Her journals from this period were published in her second book, Tibetan Foothold.

On returning to Europe, Murphy took part in a fundraising campaign for Save the Children,[3] and in 1965 she worked with another group of Tibetan refugees in Pokhara, Nepal (described in The Waiting Land).

In 1966 Murphy made her first trip to Africa. She travelled to Ethiopia and walked with a pack mule from Asmara to Addis Ababa, confronted by Kalashnikov-carrying soldiers on the way. This journey was described in her fourth book, In Ethiopia with a Mule.

Travels with Rachel[edit]

Murphy's daughter Rachel accompanied her on a trip to India at the age of five; they flew into Bombay and travelled to Goa and Coorg (described in On a Shoestring to Coorg). The pair later journeyed to Baltistan (Where the Indus is Young), Peru (Eight Feet in the Andes) and Madagascar (Muddling through in Madagascar). Their last trip was through Cameroon on a horse, where Dervla was frequently mistaken for Rachel's husband (Cameroon with Egbert).

On travelling with a child, she wrote:

A child's presence emphasises your trust in the community's goodwill. And because children pay little attention to racial or cultural differences, junior companions rapidly demolish barriers of shyness or apprehension often raised when foreigners unexpectedly approach a remote village.[5]

Politicisation[edit]

In 1978, Murphy wrote A Place Apart about her travels in Northern Ireland and encounters with members of the Protestant and Catholic religious communities. It won the 1979 Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize. She credits her 1982 book Race to the Finish? The Nuclear Stakes as a turning point that led her to write more about political issues.[6] In 1985 she lived for several months in Bradford and Birmingham, talking to members of the Asian, Afro-Caribbean and White communities and witnessing first-hand one of the Handsworth riots (described in Tales From Two Cities). In 1992 she cycled from Kenya to Zimbabwe, where she witnessed the impact of AIDS; when describing this journey in The Ukimwi Road, she criticised the role of non-governmental organisations in sub-Saharan Africa. Her other writings include discussions about the aftermath of apartheid (South from the Limpopo) and the Rwandan genocide (Visiting Rwanda), the displacement of tribal peoples (One Foot in Laos), and post-war reconstruction of the Balkans (Through the Embers of Chaos).

She is anti-globalization and critical of NATO, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization.[7] She has spoken out against nuclear power and climate change.[1]

Murphy stated that some readers disapproved of the "political stuff", but another group "tells me they haven't thought about these things in this way before and are glad that I've written and thought more about the political side. My view is that I have these things I want to say and I don't really care if it spoils a pure travel book."[6]

Irish babushka[edit]

In 2002, aged 71, Murphy planned to cycle in the Ussuriland region of eastern Russia. She broke her knee while on the Baikal Amur Mainline railway, then tore a calf muscle while recuperating at Lake Baikal, and her plans changed to a journey around Siberia by train, boat and bus, documented in Through Siberia by Accident. She revisited Siberia and wrote a companion book, Silverland.

In 2005, she visited Cuba with her daughter and three granddaughters, and made two return trips in 2006 and 2007 (described in The Island that Dared). Her Havana experiences are also featured in a collection of traveller's tales.[8]

Over the summer of 2011, Murphy spent a month in the Palestinian Gaza Strip, where she met liberals and Islamists, Hamas and Fatah supporters. She described her stay in a book published in 2013: A Month by the Sea. She wrote about further encounters with Israelis and Palestinians in her 2015 book, Between River and Sea.

Personal life and interests[edit]

Murphy never married. In 1968 she gave birth to her only child, Rachel, fathered by Irish Times journalist Terence de Vere White.[9] Her decision to bring up her daughter alone was described as "a brave choice in 1960s Ireland" by The Sunday Business Post, although she said she felt safe from criticism because she was in her thirties and was financially and professionally secure.[7] Following Rachel's birth, she spent five years as a book reviewer before returning to travel writing.[6]

Murphy lives in Lismore with five dogs and three cats.[1] She is a patron of Sustrans, a British charity for sustainable travel, and of the Lismore Immrama Festival of Travel Writing.[10]

In 2009 Murphy appeared on the BBC Radio 4 programme Great Lives, nominating Freya Stark as a Great Life, supported by expert John Murray VII of the publishing family.[11]

Recognition[edit]

In 2019 she was presented with the inaugural Inspiring Cyclist of the Year award by Dublin-based advocacy group I BIKE Dublin.[12] The same year, she received the Royal Geographical Society's Ness Award "for the popularisation of geography through travel literature".[13]

Publications[edit]

Title Year Publisher ISBN Pages
Full Tilt: Ireland to India With a Bicycle 1965 John Murray 235[4]
Tibetan foothold 1966 John Murray 206[14]
The waiting land: a spell in Nepal 1967 John Murray 216[15]
In Ethiopia with a mule 1968 John Murray 281[16]
On a shoestring to Coorg: an experience of South India / Dervla Murphy 1976 John Murray 0719532841 261[17]
Where the Indus is young: a winter in Baltistan 1977 John Murray 071953335X 266[18]
A place apart 1978 John Murray 0719534763 290[19]
Wheels within wheels: autobiography 1979 John Murray 0719536499 236[20]
Race to the finish?: the nuclear stakes 1982 John Murray 071953884X 264[21]
Eight Feet in the Andes 1983 John Murray 0719540836 276[22]
Muddling through in Madagascar 1985 John Murray 0719542391 288[23]
Changing the problem: post-forum reflections 1984 The Lilliput Press 0946640076 36[24]
Ireland (with Klaus Francke) 1985 Orbis 0856137979 208[25]
Tales from two cities: travel of another sort 1987 John Murray 0719544351 314[26]
Cameroon with Egbert 1990 John Murray 0719546893 282[27]
Transylvania and beyond 1992 John Murray 9781780601205 239[28]
The Ukimwi road: from Kenya to Zimbabwe 1993 John Murray 0719552508 276[29]
South from the Limpopo: travels through South Africa 1997 John Murray 0719557895 432[30]
Visiting Rwanda 1998 The Lilliput Press 1901866114 246[31]
One foot in Laos 1999 John Murray 0719559693 284[32]
Through the embers of chaos: Balkan journeys 2002 John Murray 0719562325 388[33]
Through Siberia by accident: a small slice of autobiography 2005 John Murray 0719566630 302[34]
Silverland: a winter journey beyond the Urals 2006 John Murray 9780719568282 288[35]
The island that dared: journeys in Cuba 2008 Eland 9781906011352 421[36]
A month by the sea: encounters in Gaza 2013 Eland 9781906011475 258[37]
Between river and sea: encounters in Israel and Palestine 2015 Eland 9781780600451 442[38]

Murphy's books from 1965 to 1979 have all been republished in new editions by Eland, as travel classics.[39]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Allan, Vicky (20 January 2007). "On top of the world". Sunday Herald. Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 27 September 2007.
  2. ^ Toksvig, Sandi (15 December 2007). "Excess Baggage". BBC Radio 4.
  3. ^ a b c d Murphy, Dervla (1979). Wheels within wheels: autobiography. London: John Murray. ISBN 0719536499.
  4. ^ a b "Full tilt : Ireland to India with a bicycle". British Library. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  5. ^ Murphy, Dervla (3 January 2009). "First, buy your pack animal". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  6. ^ a b c Wroe, Nicholas (15 April 2006). "Free wheeler". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  7. ^ a b Hayden, Joanne (18 August 2002). "Trailblazer: Dervla Murphy". Sunday Business Post. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  8. ^ Barclay, Jennifer; Phillips, Adrian (2015). To Oldly Go: tales of intrepid travel. Bradt Travel Guides. ISBN 978-1784770273.
  9. ^ Speake, Jennifer (2003). "Murphy, Dervla (1931–)". Literature of Travel and Exploration: An Encyclopedia. Taylor and Francis. ISBN 1-57958-424-1. Retrieved 12 October 2008.
  10. ^ "Lismore Immrama Festival of Travel Writing". Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  11. ^ Parris, Matthew (25 August 2009). "Great Lives, Series 19, Freya Stark". BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  12. ^ "Don't Stop Pedalling". Broadsheet.ie. 4 December 2019. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  13. ^ "Medals and award recipients announced". Royal Geographical Society. 2019. Retrieved 21 June 2020.
  14. ^ "Tibetan foothold". British Library. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  15. ^ "The waiting land: a spell in Nepal". British Library. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  16. ^ "In Ethiopia with a mule". British Library. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  17. ^ "On a shoestring to Coorg: an experience of South India / Dervla Murphy". British Library. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  18. ^ "Where the Indus is young: a winter in Baltistan". British Library. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  19. ^ "A place apart". British Library. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  20. ^ "Wheels within wheels: autobiography". British Library. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  21. ^ "Race to the finish?: the nuclear stakes". British Library. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  22. ^ "Eight Feet in the Andes". British Library. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  23. ^ "Muddling through in Madagascar". British Library. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  24. ^ "Changing the problem: post-forum reflections". British Library. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  25. ^ "Ireland". British Library. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  26. ^ "Tales from two cities: travel of another sort". British Library. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  27. ^ "Cameroon with Egbert". British Library. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  28. ^ "Transylvania and beyond". British Library. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  29. ^ "The Ukimwi road : from Kenya to Zimbabwe". British Library. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  30. ^ "South from the Limpopo: travels through South Africa". British Library. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  31. ^ "Visiting Rwanda". British Library. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  32. ^ "One foot in Laos". British Library. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  33. ^ "Through the embers of chaos: Balkan journeys". British Library. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  34. ^ "Through Siberia by accident: a small slice of autobiography". British Library. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  35. ^ "Silverland: a winter journey beyond the Urals". British Library. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  36. ^ "The island that dared: journeys in Cuba". British Library. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  37. ^ "A month by the sea: encounters in Gaza". British Library. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  38. ^ "Between river and sea: encounters in Israel and Palestine". British Library. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  39. ^ "Dervla Murphy". Eland. Retrieved 15 September 2016.

External links[edit]

Profiles[edit]

Book reviews[edit]

Interviews[edit]