In praise of Dervla Murphy, by Anakana Schofield

Irish Women Writers: ‘Her prose has a practical, muscular texture redolent of her cross-continent physical traverse’

 Dervla Murphy in the study of her home in Lismore, Co Waterford, last year. “Dervla Murphy is synonymous with passion, pertinacity and peregrination,” says Anakana Schofield. “Also, bicycle wheels. As a very young woman I first read Murphy’s In Ethiopia With a Mule (1966) and credit it with dispelling the idea at 18 that if I was to travel alone as a woman, everyone would instantly want to kill me. Strange as it may sound: she put me in my body. I did travel alone and lived.   Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Dervla Murphy in the study of her home in Lismore, Co Waterford, last year. “Dervla Murphy is synonymous with passion, pertinacity and peregrination,” says Anakana Schofield. “Also, bicycle wheels. As a very young woman I first read Murphy’s In Ethiopia With a Mule (1966) and credit it with dispelling the idea at 18 that if I was to travel alone as a woman, everyone would instantly want to kill me. Strange as it may sound: she put me in my body. I did travel alone and lived. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

 

(Visit our Women Writers microsite here)

Dervla Murphy is synonymous with passion, pertinacity and peregrination. Also, bicycle wheels. As a very young woman I first read Murphy’s In Ethiopia With a Mule (1966) and credit it with dispelling the idea at 18 that if I was to travel alone as a woman, everyone would instantly want to kill me. Strange as it may sound: she put me in my body. I did travel alone and lived.

I have given her books to many people in my life, such that each Christmas the refrain from one Canadian relative was “You can get me another of that Dervla’s books”. See, she’s not just any random Dervla. She’s a very specific Dervla. I don’t think there’s many in Ireland that wouldn’t facially ignite or animate upon mention of her work because for forty years we have been fortunate to travel on the page with her.

Murphy, 83, more a roaming, recording Promethean witness than mere travel writer, collages history, politics, topography, place and people into the present moment of what she sees, hears, bikes, walks and experiences wherever she goes. Her prose has a practical, muscular texture redolent of her cross-continent physical traverse. All weather, every weather, whatever the weather, her transport is low tech. Donkey, (sometimes) gearless bike, local transport or her feet. She has had to contend with injuries and danger, but is indefatigable in the face of what presents. Her 20 books have taken readers to Afghanistan, Baltistan, the Balkans, Cameroon, Coorg, Cuba, Gaza, Iran, Kenya, Laos, Madagascar, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Siberia, Transylvania, Tibet, Zimbabwe and more.

The idea that generations of girls and young, middling and old women will yet discover and read her extensive body of work, become captivated and catapulted to adventure (whether imaginatively or physically) is most invigorating.

Another advantage to Murphy’s adventures is that if you’re disinclined to wet feet, heat exhaustion, fevers, altitude sickness, tick bites, dodging snakes, or all manner of inconvenience there’s no need to leave the couch. Murphy’s work also encourages readers to delve into deeper reading on a country’s history and discover its fiction and poetry. Big road taken by short woman for many long years gives way to endless reading boreens. At 83, she’s not stopping anytime soon.

Anakana Schofield is the author of Malarky, which won the Amazon.ca First Novel Award and the 2013 Debut-Litzer Prize for Fiction in the United States and was a finalist for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.