On yer bike: get inspired by Dervla Murphy at this sale of two library collections

As well as works by the late travel writer, Oliver Usher’s auction has some interesting snippets from the past

The work of the late Dervla Murphy, the trailblazing Irish travel writer, will feature at an upcoming auction as part of a sale of two interesting and eclectic library collections.

The private collection of historian Jim Gammons, from Virginia, Co Cavan, features along with that of Margaret and Ultan Conway from Co Meath, at an auction by Kells-based auctioneer Oliver Usher on July 11th in a live online sale.

The volumes by Dervla Murphy, who died in May at the age of 90, will likely attract some interest.

Through the Embers of Chaos: Balkan Journeys and a copy of A Place Apart, her exploration of Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles, feature along with Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle. Published in 1965, this book is now deemed to be a historical document of a bygone world, which tells the story of Murphy cycling through the continent in the cold winter of 1962 with a total budget of £64 armed with a .25 pistol, along with instructions from her local gardaí in Waterford on how to use the weapon — which she did in later years when attacked by wolves in Bulgaria.


Her diary style of writing resulted in 26 books over her 90 years, covering her adventures across four continents on a bike, mule or by foot. A fearless adventurer, she was described as “unpretentious, shiningly honest and accessible” by travel writer Colin Thubron, who called her writing full of “earthy humour and charm”. She became an exceptional voice, and won the prestigious Edward Stanford Award for Outstanding Contribution to Travel Writing in 2021 at the age of 89.

Nothing could stop this intrepid travel writer, who survived amoebic dysentery in Pakistan, and a fractured coccyx in Romania, but of her hometown Lismore, Co Waterford, Murphy said she “wouldn’t live anywhere else”.

Other lots of interest in the sale, which has rare and collectable editions by Mary Lavin, Seamus Heaney, Thomas Kinsella, Thomas Pakenham and Brian O’Higgins, is The Playboy of the Western World by JM Synge, which has lovely brush drawings by the artist Louis le Brocquy (€200-€300).

A limited-edition Queen Mary Atlas, hand bound in full-grain calf leather, is listed at €250-€350. Based on the spectacular manuscript atlas of the cartographic work from the 16th century, it was originally commissioned by Queen Mary of England, purportedly as a gift for her husband Philip II of Spain. Comprising lavishly decorated maps and diagrams with illustrations of ships and sea creatures upon the oceans, the atlas was a political statement as much as it was a geographic document, as flags and coats-of-arms of Spain are prominently displayed.

The Luttrell Psalter, a goatskin-bound limited edition facsimile of one of the most famous medieval manuscripts — due to its rich illustrations — is seeking €150-€250. The original psalter is in the British Museum, which tried to buy it in 1929. However, it didn’t have the then-record asking price of 30,000 guineas, so an anonymous benefactor (US millionaire John Pierpont Morgan Jr) loaned the money interest-free to the museum, where it has resided ever since.

The sale of the book collections follows the news this week that the Luggala Estate library of the late Garech Browne, the arts patron and descendant of Arthur Guinness, is to move to Farmleigh, on a long-term loan. The substantial and eclectic collection of about 20,000 books and manuscripts shows the wide range of interest reflecting Browne’s life. Visitors to the estate will be able to view a selection from Browne’s library in the Oak Room, which will be renamed The Garech Browne room.


Elizabeth Birdthistle

Elizabeth Birdthistle

Elizabeth Birdthistle, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about property, fine arts, antiques and collectables