3.5 out of 5 stars
The person that we become is often determined in our formative years. Dervla Murphy is one of those that would probably not be the tenacious person that she is today if she had a different upbringing. She was born ninety years ago in 1928 in Lismore, County Waterford, Ireland. She was an only child after her mother was advised not to have any more children because of rheumatoid arthritis.
Her mother’s health meant that she became an invalid very early on and she was looked after by her husband and daughter with some assistance from others at times. To get a break from the relentless pressure that caring for someone can have, she would take off for long rides around the local countryside from the age of eleven. She had been given her bicycle and an atlas at the age of ten and these two gifts gave her the idea of cycling to India after she realised that by just keeping pedalling she could make it to any point in the world she desired.
It was a tough life in that part of Ireland, but she was remarkable stoic given all the pressures and poverty she endured. She had a brief spell at a boarding school, but her mother insisted that it was only her that could look after her. She was to do this until her death in the early 1960s. She mostly complied with her requests, but there were moments when she fought back to give herself the space that she needed.
It is a fascinating read, though fairly uncomfortable at times as Murphy does not hold back as she unloads her feelings about the way that her mother treated her and used her as her nurse for so long. However, she is human enough to realise that they were not in a position as a family to be able to afford the care that she needed. It strengthened her character and ironically gave her the skills she need to travel the world as a lone woman on a bike.