Dervla Murphy, the intrepid Irish travel writer, has died aged 90. The West Waterford-based author of more than 25 books has traveled the world, from Peru to Pakistan, Africa, India and Siberia to Cuba, Romania, Laos and Israel.
An avid cyclist, her first book was Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle (1965). Her account of the six-month journey across Europe, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and across the Himalayas to Pakistan and India established her as an exceptional new voice.
A master of pure reportage, she became a hero among travel writers and captivated readers with what travel writer Colin Thubron described as her “unpretentious, brilliantly honest, approachable” books marked by their “earthly humor and charm”. Traveling by bicycle, on foot, by pony or by public transport – she never learned to drive – Murphy listened to, observed and recorded conversations she had with locals in more than 30 countries that she visited.
In 1979 she won the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize for A Place Apart: Northern Ireland in the 1970s (1978) written after time spent with members of the Protestant and Catholic communities there. In 2019, the Royal Geographical Society celebrated his work with the Ness Award for “Popularizing Geography through Travel Literature”. In 2021, she won the prestigious Edward Stanford Award for Outstanding Contribution to Travel Writing.
Born in 1931, Murphy grew up in Lismore, Co Waterford, the only child of Dubliners, Fergus and Kathleen Murphy. After her travels, she always returned there. “I wouldn’t live anywhere but my little part of West Waterford,” she said.
“Dervla has lived her adventurous life on the edge of social class and gender norms, of course, but often even on the edge of actual physical survival. The honest, uncompromising travel writing that resulted from this life belongs to the heart of the Irish literary canon, to encourage young people to get out and experience the real world rather than just the virtual world,” said her friend Ethel Crowley.
Dervla Murphy is survived by her daughter Rachel and her granddaughters Rose, Clodagh and Zea.