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.