Dervla Murphy obituary | Travel

Full Tilt: Ireland to India With a Bicycle by Dervla Murphy, published in 1965, is today as much a historical document of a vanished world as a travel book, but its feeling of liberation, on a bicycle towards a wide future fleeing a confined past. , always exalts. Like notable 19th-century female travelers such as Isabella Bird Bishop, when she was finally freed from a domestic service cage, Murphy traveled through the cold, snowy winter of 1962-63.

She went armed with a .25 pistol and basic instructions from the County Waterford gardai on how to use it, what she did to deal with wolves and robbers, as well as maps and compass through which she had explored the planet in her imagination since childhood. . Above all, she had a tolerance for hardship (her total budget was £64) and a curiosity for everyday elsewheres, which she retained for half a century of advancing by bicycle, on foot, by mule and in carts (she has never driven a car) on and off-road on four continents.

Murphy, who died at the age of 90, wrote 26 books, many of them in Full Tilt’s diary style, tackling every day, person and place, fresh on the page as she had lived it. This directness appealed to readers, as well as Murphy’s point of view, which was novel due to her background: she was a voracious reader but with little formal education and, being from rural Ireland, outside of grades superiors of the class structure that dominated travel writing. Rural poverty around the world came as no surprise to Murphy, who had attended a village primary school with barefoot, hungry classmates and knew families dying of tuberculosis.

She arrived at each destination alone with no social introductions, was shy at home but en route spoke with all who responded, and in life as in writing downplayed risks and tribulations – injuries, diseases and assaults to dirt and nothing for supper.

Dervla Murphy in India

At the age of 10, she had realized while riding a bicycle for the first time that a simple pedaling could one day take her to India, and on the way, she discovered how the daily wonder of the wheels of his cycle Armstrong Cadet, Roz (abbreviation of Rozinante, Don Quixote’s horse), prevailed towards the hospitality of kind strangers. Descending a mountain road quickly has always thrilled her; touring the Balkans in her 60s, she was timed descending at 65 mph by a military patrol and reprimanded for not applying her brakes.

Murphy’s attitude towards gender and social norms was also rare at the time. Tall, deep-voiced, muscular, practical, and endowed with a decisiveness resulting from constant solo choices, she was often mistaken for a man by other societies and sometimes romanticized the restricted roles of women in those societies, qu she would never have endured. se.

She was sure of the direction of her own life, though uncertain of its course. She never intended to marry, but once able to support herself through writing, she wanted a child. His daughter, Rachel, deliberately conceived with Irish Times literary editor Terence de Vere White, was born in 1968, and her mother raised her alone, never naming the father publicly until after his death in 1994.

Rachel had her fifth birthday in Kodagu (then called Coorg), in southwestern India, on the first of her trips with her mother; they then went to Baltistan, Peru, Madagascar and Cameroon. Until Rachel hit puberty, when people they met on the trip began to think of her as an adult who shared a sealed bubble of weirdness with her mother, she was an asset, a link to families. , but also, at times, a distraction, interrupting Murphy’s fellowship. with the deep and pre-modern silence of the Himalayas or the Andes. Their relationship might be rocky, but it did, and in time Murphy’s daughters Rachel and Rachel, Rose, Clodagh and Zea, all reunited on a Cuban beach for a three-generation trip on the usual low budget. , in 2005.

Murphy’s difficult home situation had shaped her, she wrote in Wheels Within Wheels (1979). Her parents moved from Dublin to Lismore to Waterford when her father, Fergus Murphy, was appointed County Librarian. Shortly after Dervla was born, his mother, Kathleen, contracted a rare rheumatoid arthritis which crippled her: perhaps as compensation, she nurtured Dervla’s boldness, giving him that first bike as the money was always missing. But, aged 14, Dervla was taken out of the Ursuline convent boarding school in Waterford to serve as carer for Kathleen for 16 years. Kathleen encouraged her brief bike rides around England and Europe, although Dervla had to return from each week of freedom to strenuous duty.

Fergus died in 1961 and Kathleen the following year, leaving Murphy a home, books (his lifetime collection grew to 9,000), strong beliefs about political and social injustice, and his freedom. After Full Tilt, based on diaries published only because of a chance encounter in Delhi with John Betjeman’s wife, Penelope Chetwode, came Tibetan Foothold (1966) and The Waiting Land (1967), which grew out of the work with Tibetan refugees in India and Nepal. . From the late 1970s the focus of his travels shifted to investigating the effects of recent history on people and places, beginning with A Place Apart (1978), a bicycle ride around Northern Ireland, then at an unrelenting stage of its Troubles.

On a Greyhound bus crossing the United States, she passed Three Mile Island, the site of America’s worst nuclear accident in 1979, which inspired Nuclear Stakes, Race to the Finish (1982), the first of the books in which her politics mattered more than the trip, through Kenya and Zimbabwe during the AIDS epidemic, Romania after its revolution, Rwanda after the genocide, the Balkans after a decade of wars.

These culminated in an unfinished trilogy on Palestinian territorial fragments – Gaza Strip, West Bank, Jordanian camps – studied like never before over coffee in overcrowded buildings or tea on the floor of tents. She was strongly for socialism and against almost everything else, especially mass tourism.

A hip replacement after a fall in Jerusalem, aged nearly 80, along with arthritis and emphysema, ultimately confined Murphy to his austere Lismore base, a remnant of a 17th-century cattle market and quirky addictions, where she hosted a travel writing festival and hosted pilgrims, including Michael Palin, visiting for a TV documentary, Who Is Dervla Murphy?, in 2016. She asked him to join his daily lean bath in the Blackwater River.

His daughter and granddaughters survive him.

Dervla Murphy, traveler and writer, born November 28, 1931; died on May 22, 2022


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