“Come over for lunch. You can help me get a few things done ’round the house. Ever since I hurt my shoulder, I haven’t been able to do any hoovering,” said Dervla Murphy, Ireland’s most intrepid travel writer, when I let her know I was coming to the southern Ireland town of Lismore in 2013, where I’d had a book talk scheduled. I’d met the sturdy and informal author when we were panelists at the Key West Literary Seminar in 2006. That was a long way from Ireland: powder-blue skies, pink taxis, and abundant sunshine—Dervla had just returned from a reporting trip to Cuba for a book titled, The Island That Dared.

Dervla Murphy with her dog, Wurzel.

“So how did your event go yesterday,” Dervla asked, laughing at the word I’d used to describe an appearance in Lismore the night before to promote my book, A Sense of Place.

“Is ‘event’ too grand a word?” I responded.

“No, it’s just that the word amuses me,” Dervla said. “To me, event suggests something really momentous, really important. So when I’m told I’m having an event in Edinburgh or wherever, it’s as though I’m coming along and creating an earthquake,” she said with her hearty laugh. “It’s ridiculous.”

I wasn’t offended in the least – she was right as always unpretentious and down to earth. When she died at age 90 in May 2022, AFAR magazine asked me to share my memories of Dervla, as a literary hero, colleague and friend.

Below is the opening of the story, to read it in full on AFAR’s site, click here.

In 2013, as I arrived at the iron gates guarding her rustic house, Dervla, then age 82, greeted me with a powerful bear hug and thrust a can of beer into my hand. I hesitated—it was still morning and I’d only been up for a couple of hours. Dervla laughed and toasted debauchery, saying: “I love debauching people!” A bit hunched due to a shoulder injury, Dervla ushered me inside and brought out a salad of boiled potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, and a loaf of home-baked brown bread. Then she emerged with an armload of beers. “The drunken orgy’s underway!” she hollered in her resonant Irish brogue. “I’m a wreck!”