PETERBOROUGH, ONT. -- When Megan Murphy's father, the late Peterborough lawyer Marty Murphy, gave his daughter a gift of the complete collections of William Shakespeare he wrote her a note in it telling her to never lose her "divil."
Last fall the usually effervescent, loquacious woman thought she had lost that ability to be mischievous.
She wasn't happy, broke off her engagement to the man she had been dating for six years, moved back into the family's west-end home and started searching for that "divil."
Marty Murphy was a well-known lawyer who died 10 years ago July 2. He had more clients than money, a blessing and a curse for a lawyer with a wife and three daughters, Megan the middle one, with Katie and Kerry. There were many times he'd help a friend but not send the bill, which was not good for the financial books.
His Irish heritage had never left him nor had his "divil," but in 1973 when he was 26 he must have been feeling it slipping away. He was dating his future wife Mary Anne for six years, had recently been rejected for law school and had to be wondering what was next in his life.
He took a leap to "live big", packed his bags, his red Peugeot 10-speed bicycle and hopped on an Air Canada flight to Ireland for a month-long solo journey around southern Ireland. His bike's saddlebags didn't arrive, he had no tools to put his bicycle together, and stayed his first night in Ennismore House on Ennis Rd., but onward he went.
He wrote daily about his journey in one and a half small black journals filled with personal, sometimes private, sometimes humorous thoughts about the trip:
"I'll try to reach Tralee tomorrow if I can so that I can start down the Dingle Sunday. I make it to be about 58 miles. If it's a good day I can do it. It it's a normal day, I'll drown," he wrote.
He came back to Canada refreshed, packed away the journals, married his girlfriend a graduated nurse, got accepted into law school and would settle in his hometown of Peterborough.
Four years after his bike trip there was a fire in their home destroying many personal belongings. As far as Megan was aware there were no journals.
When she moved home in January of this year she was moving some things around in the family home to make room for her stuff and came across a box in a closet. Inside, between two books, were the journals, wrapped in plastic, singed a bit but in good shape.
She couldn't put them down. His words were so descriptive, personal, beautiful, wonderful and, for her, inspiring.
After reading it she checked the family garage and hanging from the rafters was her father's rusty bike he had used for the journey.
"He was sending me a message."
She was sure of it.
Always a creature of creativity, a graduate of York University's fine arts program, she had studied filmmaking at college, done a lot of amateur and professional acting, signed up as a radio host with Cobourg-based Star 93.3 and 107.9 The Breeze, but still there was something missing in her life. Her family noticed it as well.
"I was in a dark place," she remembers.
Megan knew she had to do something with the journals ... and the bike.
"I got completely obsessed by it."
She took the bike to Wild Rock Outfitters on Charlotte St. to see if it was operational. They kept it for a while, called her after replacing the gearbox, adding some gears and replacing the pedals. They told her it was fine.
Tears rolled down her face when she saw it. She left the fading red paint on it.
"I was broken at 35 years old and my Dad was saying 'hey kid, try this.'"
She usually had the "pilot light on that my Dad had, but it was going out. I wasn't in a good place with my life. I needed to do something to bring the flame back on that pilot light within me."
The Murphy family, closer than monarchs on milkweed, supported and encouraged her to get that flame glowing.
She decided to retrace her father's journey. Not only that, but to use her creative juices to do a documentary, a life love she had used before to satisfy her creative urges.
She will pour her time, emotions and savings into a mysterious month on the road.
Marty Murphy has a bench that the family dedicated in his honour on Ireland's Dingle Peninsula, his favourite place (other than family), where during his weeks of chemotherapy and people told him to go to a happy place he would visit it in his thoughts. He had taken photos of it on his cycling journey and wrote about: "The ride down that mountain to Dingle was perhaps the second most thrilling moment I can remember. It was exhilarating: 4 miles of winding, asphalt road in about 7 minutes. I was braking on and off most all the way just to keep control of the machine. To be on the fine edge of disaster yet in control, however precariously, is a sensation that must be experienced to be understood. The magnetic quality of danger perhaps rings one of the more basic of our emotions, but it is nonetheless human."
After his death the family went there and dedicated the bench. Megan hopes to end her trip at Dingle where she will meet her Peterborough sisters and other relatives who have promised to be there 25 days after she begins to pedal.
She wants to see and visit the sights her father describes in his journals; experience his journey.
A two-person Canadian film crew has been hired for the first eight days, an aunt and uncle will be there for eight days helping her film and she has hired a two person Irish crew for the last few days. She will be alone for one week of the journey.
She hopes to capture the essence of the father/daughter journey before coming home to edit then preview the documentary at Market Hall then offering it to other film festivals.
"The journey comes first. I don't know how to not create. It will be the universal story of "who are we?" but I needed to feel, get connected with myself and live, do something big like he did."
The journey may cost as much as $30,000, a big investment for her with no guarantee of any return. She has, and is, welcoming investors who want to become part of the experience. Some people have already helped. They will get film credits and other opportunities.
She has already received proceeds from a Peterborough improv group, The Citiots performance.
"I was totally surprised by it, the tears came gushing out."
"Peterborough is such a great community."
For the last few weeks she has been training, getting herself in physical shape on the road and at the YMCA.
"I hadn't been on a bike since I was 10, living on Hopewell Ave.," said the St. Teresa School and St. Peter Secondary School graduate.
She has been on the bike for 40- to 80-kilometre daily trips, recently riding her bike back from Cobourg in the Northumberland Hills, experiencing how difficult this journey will be. Her father was doing 60 to 100 kms per day. She will be staying at guesthouses along the way just as he did, but "I haven't booked all of it, we shall see where it takes me."
Her father had little communications back home during his trip, pay telephones were all that was available. Megan has cellphones and Skype.
Her father had with him his love for Mary Anne, who died about a year and a half ago. While writing in his journal to her about Dingle Peninsula, he relayed that love: "I knew how deeply this spectacle would affect me and I wanted you to be part of it Mary Anne. So I took your beads along with me in my pocket. I stood apart for a moment and looked out over the cliffs to the sea and to the western sky with the dying sun. The story has it that the Blasket Islands are the next parish to the new world so I'll not be closer to you for a while. I put my hand in my pocket and held the beads: I felt the sea wind in my face and I felt you with me for a moment. I said I love you - did you feel it?"
Marty Murphy had something special with him on his trip; his flame was in his heart at home waiting for him. Megan's fire is inside her.
"I need to get that spark, whimsy back. I'm on a quest to figure out who I am."
She leaves July 9 with her father's cap on her head and his photo on her bike.
It is something she needs to do. Something he would love her doing. It has already been emotional and she knows there is more to come. Her tear ducts have had their workouts. Her heart is ready to put flame to that pilot light.
She's looking for her "divil."
Hopefully her journey and the film will help others find theirs. We should never lose our "divil," our love and zest for life. There is after all, a little bit of the "divil" in all of us.
Ed Arnold is a Peterborough writer. His latest book Showtime, published by Harper Collins, comes out Sept. 16. He is presently working on a Peterborough rock 'n' roll book.