Immrama festival to honour Lismore's Dervla Murphy in her own understated way

The travel writing festival was established in 2003, partly due to Dervla Murphy's connection with Lismore ,and regularly features internationally-recognised personalities
Immrama festival to honour Lismore's Dervla Murphy in her own understated way

When Lismore Town Council proposed a civic reception for Dervla Murphy in 2003, she declined the honour, claiming 'an allergy to such occasions'. Picture: Ethel Crowley

Guest speakers at next month's Immrama festival of travel writing in Lismore will be asked to deliver a brief monologue in commemoration of Dervla Murphy prior to their own presentations.

Festival committee chairman Ed Lynch said: "Dervla personified the very spirit of Immrama and despite the short timescale, it is imperative we celebrate her influence at this sad time. Perhaps a storytelling gesture is most appropriate."

Immrama was established in 2003, partly due to Ms Murphy's connection with Lismore, and regularly features internationally-recognised personalities.

Michael Palin attended (free of charge) as a favour to his friend Dervla Murphy while other speakers have included Robert Fisk, Paul Theroux and Tim Severin.

When Lismore Town Council proposed a civic reception for Ms Murphy in 2003, it proved a journey too far however!

She declined the honour, claiming "an allergy to such occasions".

Instead, she invited the council round to her place "for a few beers and a chat on the future of Ireland".

The writer twice cancelled scheduled appearances at Immrama "on health grounds", said former festival programme co-ordinator Jan Rotte.

"She supported Immrama in the background but she regarded it as overly commercial and opposed paying speakers a fee."

Former Lismore mayor Mr Rotte first met Dervla in the 1990s when she unexpectedly arrived alone, with a punctured bicycle, in the town of Iringa, Tanzania, where he and his wife Catherine were working with Concern.

"She was researching the Aids epidemic in Africa for her book The Ukimwi Road", he said.

"She stayed a few days, where I remember she had an argument in our house with a Catholic priest who opposed deploying condoms to fight infections.

"She actually describes the house in the book."

Mr Rotte recalls how Ms Murphy, despite being "totally focused" on her journey, was also conscious of responsibilities back in Lismore.

"There, in deepest Africa, as she was leaving, she asked if we were back in Lismore before her, that we check in on her cat!"

The Rottes developed a strong friendship with the writer thereafter.

"She was a wonderful, entertaining and straight talking woman", says Jan. "She is a great loss".

Immrama runs from June 16-19. See www.lismore-immrama.com

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