Dervla Murphy, 82: ‘What do I think of politicians? A pile of f**king s**ts’

Travel writer Dervla Murphy (82) is interviewed for our Generations series at her home in Lismore Co.Waterford. She reflects on childhood memories, cars, money, life and death. Video: Bryan O'Brien


In conversation with Rosita Boland: Dervla Murphy is a travel writer. She lives in Lismore, Co Waterford

(Click here to go to the full Generations microsite)

The first thing I remember is when I was about four: of discovering a rat hole in the window frame when I was climbing around on the window sill. There had been much talk of how the rats got in, and I was the one who discovered the rat hole.

When I was four the wireless arrived. It was the first time I realised there was a world outside Ireland. I used to sit twiddling the knob, absolutely fascinated by all the foreign languages. It made me aware of the size and the variety of the world.

I’ve had no faith since I was 18. It just stopped meaning anything to me around then. I believe that when we’re dead we’re dead, and that’s it. I often wonder if that makes me live my life a different way. When you’re as close to death as I am, is it easier or harder to think about being dead? I think for complete nonbelievers, like myself, it makes it easier, because there are no consequences to being dead.

It’s hard for me to remember names now. I’m terrified of getting Alzheimer’s. I think people should definitely be allowed to do away with themselves when the time comes. It’s brutal to insist on people suffering so much when they are compos mentis and have decided that that’s it for them. If I thought Alzheimer’s had set in and was going to get worse, I would absolutely consider euthanasia.

I have never learned to drive, because I hate cars and I love bicycles. I’m never sorry I don’t drive, but I see in our world now that it will be essential for my three granddaughters to learn to drive, when they’re looking for jobs. Driving has become part of participation in the 21st century.

I’ve always been afraid of flying, but I keep that under control. It just makes flying rather stressful. I simply can’t imagine what it would be like to never have travelled. I wouldn’t be the person I became.

Money is very important to me from the viewpoint that I would hate to be in debt. That’s the way my generation was brought up: if you wanted something you saved up. If I had to borrow to keep afloat I’d be really, really upset. I’ve no ambition to have more money than I need. I wouldn’t like to be without financial independence. I suppose there are some women who don’t mind being dependent on a partner or husband, but I couldn’t imagine doing that.

I wouldn’t really call myself a feminist. When the whole women’s lib thing happened I was hardly ever in Ireland, or Europe, so it passed me by. Obviously I cheered when I heard of women going to Belfast and bringing back condoms, but I can’t say I was ever part of it. Where I do get fiercely feminist is about abortion. I hate the idea, but, even more, I hate the idea of forcing women to carry and deliver a baby they don’t want. I think it’s outrageous that you have a whole load of men making those decisions, in church and politics, especially a load of celibate men.

Ireland is undoubtedly a man’s world, in the sense that you only have to ask the cliched questions of how many women politicians are there? How many leaders in any field are women? In writing and acting and the arts generally, women are more equal. But not in decision-making jobs.

What do I think of politicians? A pile of f**king s**ts is what I think of them. All parties. Can you write that in The Irish Times or will they censor it?

We couldn’t have sunk further below the standards our ancestors would have hoped us to maintain. I think it’s really, really sad. When Haughey took over he set the moral tone of the country.

I only eat once a day. I go to bed at 9.30pm, and I get up at 5am and eat breakfast and dinner then. I’ve always done it when I’m at home. When I’m travelling it’s different; you have to adapt.

I think the time is coming when Ireland should be self-sufficient in food. In the war years, during my childhood, Ireland had to be self-sufficient. There was no real shortage of anything except tea. Imagine, Ireland is famous for potatoes, and there are potatoes from Israel in a shop here in Lismore. We should be growing all our own food. We’ve lost the run of ourselves.

Natural beauty makes me happy. Music. Books. Reading. Family and friends. That’s enough. What I value most in others is honesty. What is life without it? And people who are nonmaterialistic. I have learned to be suspicious in general of the consumer society, to be deeply suspicious of it. I generally mistrust all institutions.

I never get lonely. Ever. I don’t know what it feels like. I’m very solitary by nature. When I have company I enjoy it, but essentially I’m a solitary person.

- In conversation with Rosita Boland

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