Mother of all the Behans by Brian Behan (1994)
My late father’s extraordinary life has been documented in several books, but this memoir of his mother gives you over half a century of Irish history in her own spirited, witty and determined words. Along with other members of my father's family, Kathleen played her part in the Irish War of Independence, and raised a family of nine children from one room of a Dublin tenement.
Full Tilt by Dervla Murphy (1965)
Another strong, uncompromising Irishwoman, Dervla Murphy’s first big trip alone, from Ireland to India with a bicycle, came after the death of her ailing mother. Travelling on a very low budget, under her own steam and with no help from anyone, Murphy’s diary paints a raw and startling picture of life on the road, in places including Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Wild by Cheryl Strayed (2012)
From a more recent time, this is a tale of a lone woman’s battle with herself and her past as she undertakes the spectacularly beautiful long-distance Pacific Crest Trail close to America’s west coast. Along the hard and solitary trip, setbacks are overcome and her strength returns.
Travels with a Tangerine – a Journey in the Footnotes of Ibn Battutah, by Tim Mackintosh Smith (2001)
One of several books by the author, either following in the footsteps of the prolific 14th-century Moroccan traveller or translating his works, this is probably the most erudite and illuminating, with the writer’s fluency in Arabic, sense of humour, deep knowledge of Islam and obsession with language depicting the eccentricity of himself, his subject and those he meets.
Fresh-Air Fiend by Paul Theroux (2000)
A vivid collection of the author’s travel writing from 1985-2000, this is a wide-ranging book you can dip in and out of. “For me the best sort of travel always involves a degree of trespass,” says Theroux, who is shrewd, honest and entertaining, never hiding his perspective and always risking upsetting the people and places he writes about.