A Place Apart by Dervla Murphy

3.5 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

As a seasoned world traveller, Dervla Murphy had been in lots of sticky situations in the past, she had been robbed, threatened and somehow emerged from the other side a slightly stronger person. One place that she had never been though, was Northern Ireland. So at the height of The Troubles, Dervla Murphy decided to cycle around Northern Ireland.

There were a number of reasons behind this; she wanted to understand the situation for herself by speaking to as many people from both sides of the divide as she could, then she wanted to make up her own mind about the trouble based on those conversations. Even though members of her family were connected to the IRA she had no loyalties, either way, just endless curiosity.

To say it was an eye-opening trip would be an understatement. She is genuinely moved by the things that she sees and the stories she hears. The ghettos in parts of Belfast are shocking as she never thought that she would ever see anything like that in Ireland. She hears stories of hatred on both sides that are absolutely chilling; human hate can be infinite in its suffering. She also finds out that cycling at night through Belfast is even more terrifying than travelling through a Himalayan valley. I cannot and do not want to imagine just how hard it must have been to live there at that time

There are moments in here that showed that people were starting to push back against the violence. The peace walks were beginning to happen, people from across the divide were starting to talk in private and there was a deep desire in the separate communities for the killings to stop. She spends time in the bars and the pubs sinking pints with men mostly and trying to understand why some of these people did what they did. Most eye-opening is her visit to see Ian Paisley and her scathing opinion of him.

It is difficult to like elements of this book; Murphy writes about Northern Ireland at one of its worst moments in history and the pointless and unnecessary death and suffering that both sides caused. It has dated and that is a good thing as a lot of the partisan suffering has passed. This book is a good as historical reference of that time and is the phrase, the past is a foreign country, is perfectly apt for this book. I just hope that the present situation caused by Brexit can be resolved as the people there fully deserve to be able to live their lives.

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  1. Liz Dexter

    I think this is the only one of hers I couldn’t finish, just too grim. But fair play to her.

    • Paul

      Grim is exactly right. I cannot imagine living through that

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