The first lady of Irish Cycling


The first lady of Irish cycling is not how Dervla Murphy is usually introduced. It’s more common that the emphasis is placed on her literary output.

She, or more precisely her stories, have been responsible for turning a great many Irish people into long-distance cyclists. Many speak of having got the bug after having read her first book, Full Tilt.

That book chronicles her journey in 1963 from Dunkirk to India. The book’s prose is every bit as brisk as the author’s peddling; in 175 days she managed to notch up 4500 miles.

It’s difficult to summarize the attraction the book has had for so many cyclists. Some are captivated by the Murphy’s independent spirit of giving up everything and just taking off. Others are drawn to it by her descriptive ability, or that elusive notion of wanderlust, that’s the hallmark of any good travel book.

Full Tilt was the first of many books by this prolific County Waterford woman. Many of were written about exotic locations; she has travelled, often solo and unaided, in the Andes, Central and South Africa, Asian and Siberia.

It would be unfair to label Murphy as being just an escapist writer. In a Place Apart she writes of her impressions of sectarianism in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, while in The Ukimwi Road she tells how the AIDS epidemic has ravished the communities of Central Africa.

Murphy’s last book, Though Siberia by Accident, was written at the age of 71. When not travelling, she lives a somewhat eccentric existence her modest bungalow in Lismore County Waterford. In her autobiography Wheels within Wheels she says of Lismore that it is one of the world’s most beautiful places and if it wasn’t for the joy of cycling she may never have let it.

5 Responses to “The first lady of Irish Cycling”

  1. Shayne Dalkin Says:

    We had the honour of meeting Dervla when she was travelling through Zimbabwe many years ago when she came down with a bad dose of malaria. She stayed with us in our home on a farm in Karoi whilst recuperating and then returning to Ireland to recover properly before returning again to Karoi to carry on with her journey to South Africa. She gave our 2 daughters their first Roald Dahl books and was an absolute inspiration to us all. We are now living in Mozambique and unfortunately have lost all contact with her. We would love to be able to have an email or postal address to be able to contact her again and catch up on all her news! Gary and Shayne Dalkin – ex Zimbabwe – now Mozambique!

  2. jacquiephelan Says:

    would it not be possible to simply write, “Dervla Murphy, Ireland” and expect it to arrive safely?

  3. Paul Says:

    Dervla murphy
    co Waterford

    will certainly reach her

  4. Michael Shapiro Says:

    “in The Ukimwi Road she tells how the AIDS epidemic has ravished the communities of Central Africa.”

    I think you mean ‘ravaged’ not ravished.

  5. Shayne Dalkin Says:

    Does anyone know if Dervla has an email address by any chance?

    Many thanks,
    Shayne Dalkin

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