Dervla Murphy – A Life Travelling

Ninety years ago on this very day, a girl called Dervla Murphy was born 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. On her tenth birthday, she was given a bicycle and an atlas 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.

Her first trips though were South England and Wales but in the mid-1950s she was in France and Spain on her bike. She managed to get a few articles published in the Hibernia journal and the Irish Independent, but her first attempt at a book was rejected. Her parents passed away in the early 1960s and now free of obligations from home life, she took the opportunity to make that trip on her bike to India. This trip through Europe, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan before reaching that destination she saw in her atlas all those years ago, became her first book, Full Tilt, published in 1965.

It was the beginning of a happy career of travelling and then writing about it. The birth of her daughter meant a brief pause, but as soon as she was old enough she became Murphy’s talkative companion around South India and Baltistan at the ages of five and six. She joined her on other trips and when she was old enough to have her own children, they all went to Cuba.

She is a tough traveller. She has been robbed, attacked by wolves, suffered freezing cold and lived off dog biscuits and apricots and she attributes this resilience to her upbringing which was tough. Her earlier books are full of the wonders of discovering new places and people around the world, but her later books are much more political and opinionated. This came from the time she spent as a volunteer with refugees and her passion to help those suffering from injustice.

Murphy still lives in Lismore but has the company of numerous dogs and cats. She is a patron of Sustrans, a British charity for sustainable travel, and of the Lismore Immrama Festival of Travel Writing. She is a tour de force. I might not love everything that she has written, but I admire her tenacity and opinions. She was awarded the Edward Stanford Award for Outstanding Contribution to Travel Writing amongst her numerous awards. The full list of the books that she has written is below:


Full Tilt: Ireland to India With a Bicycle

Tibetan Foothold

The Waiting Land: A Spell In Nepal

In Ethiopia With A Mule

On A Shoestring To Coorg: An Experience Of South India

Where the Indus is young: a winter in Baltistan

A Place Apart

Wheels Within Wheels: Autobiography

Race To The Finish?: The Nuclear Stakes

Eight Feet in the Andes

Muddling through in Madagascar

Changing The Problem: Post-Forum Reflections

Ireland (with Klaus Francke)

Tales From Two Cities: Travel Of Another Sort

Cameroon With Egbert

Transylvania And Beyond

The Ukimwi Road: From Kenya To Zimbabwe

South From The Limpopo: Travels Through South Africa

Visiting Rwanda

One Foot In Laos

Through The Embers Of Chaos: Balkan Journeys

Through Siberia By Accident: A Small Slice Of Autobiography

Silverland: A Winter Journey Beyond The Urals

The Island That Dared: journeys in Cuba

A Month By The Sea: encounters in Gaza

Between River And Sea: encounters in Israel and Palestine

Here are my books:

Find out about the Dervla Murphy books that Eland still keep in print here

This week on my blog I have decided to make it Derval Murphy week. I will be publishing reviews of the books of hers that I have read recently. So do drop back again to let me know if any take your fancy

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  1. Liz Dexter

    Lovely! I really enjoy her books though think I mainly read the earlier ones. I must revisit the Nepal one after reading Nimsdai Purja’s book recently.

    • Paul

      Thank you, Liz. I think I prefer her earlier books to the later ones

  2. I keep reading recommendations for her books. I’ve just read your reviews so far and she is now firmly on the wishlist.

    • Paul

      I think I prefer her earlier books to her later ones. Two more reviews to come, one of which I have to write still!

  3. TripFiction

    A lovely piece and a tribute to an intrepid woman!

    • Paul

      Thank you!

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