Dervla Murphy: ‘Ireland’s most famous travel writer’

COVID and all that, so we used to call each other from time to time.

I knew his physical strength wasn’t what it used to be… so on this occasion, just a few months ago, I called around six o’clock in the evening.

“Dervla? »

“Oh wait a minute…” and she hung up. Oh my God, I thought maybe this time wasn’t the best. A minute passed. After.

“OK, I had a beer; What’s up?”

It was Dervla, alert and brilliant, until the end.

Described by chairman Michael D Higgins as “Ireland’s most famous travel writer”, we first met in 1986.

After cycling in India and crossing the Andes and more, she decided to make her first visit to this strange part of her own island – the north – for A Place Apart, one of the 26 books she has written over a lifetime of adventures.

And needless to say, to seek out that odd corner, she wanted to include a twelfth.

As it happened, I was working at the Cairn Lodge Youth Club at the time, and one of the lodges met there early, before rushing off to Shaftesbury Square in Belfast.

“Could my friend Dervla Murphy join you for the day?” I asked the lodge master for one more temperance lodge.

“Sure no problem.”

“She’s from the Republic.”

“Yes No problem.”

So she came down, at 7:30 a.m., with her famous brogue, a southerner beyond disguise.

“Hello,” she said as she entered the hall.

“Ah, Dervla”, (temperance yes, but) “Would you like a little bit? »

She was, in her own words, “a tough old boot.” She traveled light, lamenting the excesses of the worst minority in the world, the rich, and always conversing with the simple people.

Admittedly, its mechanical abilities were few, if and when the bike had a problem. But, as the old travel adage goes, “you only hear good stories,” and Dervla has always succeeded.

I only have one regret. Before leaving for the Balkans, she asked me if I had any advice.

“But how could I have anything to say to someone so experienced?” I thought. So it didn’t occur to me to tell him about the horrible tunnels in Bosnia, some of them miles long, all without light because of the war.

And she had the terrible experience of being inside, in pitch black silence, when everything was interrupted by the deafening echoes of a deafening truck, its blinding lights, its muffled smoke, its driver totally oblivious to a lone cyclist cowering against the side wall.

And I have hope. Dervla was always so full of encouragement, and for me anyway, she had one more wish for one of her great loves: “Yes”, she said, “go cycling through the Tibet”.

Dervla Murphy, of Lismore, Co Waterford, died aged 90 on May 22. She is survived by her daughter Rachel and her grandchildren.

Peter Emerson