Dervla Murphy – cycling away at Full Tilt

Saturday, 28 May 2022

Dervla Murphy cycled away – aged 90 – on 22 May. Her death ends an astonishing travel career, kicking off with what is still probably the best book ever written about a great bicycle ride: Full Tilt, her 1963 trip from Ireland to India. I wrote about where you could find Roz, her famous bicycle, in In Her Footsteps, Lonely Planet’s 2020 guide to trailblazing women:

Straddling Roz, the bicycle she named after Don Quixote’s faithful steed Rocinante, Dervla Murphy pedaled out of Lismore in 1963, She was born and raised in the town, 140 miles (220km) south-west of Dublin and had remained at home into her early 30s, looking after her parents both of whom were unwell. Their deaths freed her from her responsibilities and she set off to turn an idea, inspired by pedalling around Lismore on her first bicycle when she was 10 years old, into reality: ‘If I went on doing this for long enough I could get to India.’

◄ The current edition of Full Tilt, published by Eland Books

Indeed she could and Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle, the book that trip inspired has never been out of print. It’s still the best ever account of the joys and hardships of a good long bike ride. Dervla’s subsequent life has been undertaken in a similar full tilt fashion, travelling hard and doing it tough whether it was In Ethiopia with a Mule, On a Shoestring to Coorg or travelling and writing about a host of other countries and regions as varied as Nepal, Tibet, Baltistan, Siberia, Peru, Cameroon or Madagascar. Later her writing would take on a distinctly political stance as she visited and wrote about Northern Ireland, Palestine and Gaza, Cuba, Zimbabwe and the Balkans and confronted subjects as wide ranging as globalization, nuclear power and climate change.

◄ The first edition of Full Tilt, from John Murray




For many years Roz was on display, pinned to the wall of the Lismore Public Library, but recently it moved although only five miles (8km) to the library in Cappoquin where it can be seen during the library opening hours.

In her fine obituary of Ms Murphy in the Irish Times Rosita Boland wrote ‘I never interviewed anyone who lived in such an unusual way’.

▲ With Maureen and Roz in Lismore in 2012

Sadly I never met Dervla although she nearly came to Lonely Planet’s 21st birthday travel talkfest in Melbourne in 1994. Although, in the end, she didn’t make it Eric Newby and Pico Iyer did. I have, however, met Roz. In 2012 Maureen and I were in Lismore in Ireland – with Colin Thubron, Artemis Cooper and Jan Morris amongst other writers. We made a pilgrimage to the Lismore Public Library to see Roz, only to discover she’d been taken down from the wall while some sort of building repair took place. We trekked around to the council offer where, we were told, Roz was in storage and they very kindly rolled her outside for a photograph.