Travel writer Dervla Murphy tells her most harrowing story

Dervla talks to Rosamund Burton of The Sydney Herald

"Weeds," says Dervla Murphy in her deep, melodious voice, in what sounds like a mixture of mild irritation but also delight at the carpet of forget-me-nots covering the courtyard of the Old Market. This collection of stone buildings hidden away behind iron gates up a cobbled laneway in Lismore, County Waterford, is the home of the legendary Irish travel writer. 

Murphy has lit a fire in the main living area. It's not something she would usually dream of doing, she admits, even though the Old Market has no heating, but she has a guest staying. We don't linger in the warmth, but walk back across the courtyard to her study. While I wish I'd worn several more layers, Murphy is unfazed by the cold.

I first met Murphy with my parents in 1981, soon after we moved to Lismore, and it was the start of a long friendship. She and her daughter, Rachel, then lived in a bungalow on the outskirts of town. Much to my delight at the age of 18, Murphy dispatched me on her bicycle to Maddens Pub to buy her some beer. Not only did I share the name, Roz, with this bicycle, but also Murphy had cycled on it from Dunkirk to Delhi. Her first book, Full Tilt (1965), was about that journey, and the start of her travel writing career.