Tim Robinson


Life
1935- [Timothy Drever Robinson]; b. and raised nr. Ilkley Moor, Yorkshire; national service as RAF bomber wing radar-fitter, Malaya; ed. Cambridge (Maths.); m. Máiréad; teacher in Bosphorus village, nr. Istanbul; later lived in Vienna, exhibiting paintings; returned to London in 1960s, and lived by painting and illustrating technical books; drawn to Aran by Flaherty’s Man of Aran; first visited and immediately decided to live there, Summer 1972; developed interest in Clare and Burren area;
 
learned Irish from Buntús Cainte [school book]; left Aran in 1980 and settled in Roundstone, Co. Galway, 1984; produced maps of Aran and S. Connemara; issued Stones of Aran, Vol. I (1986); winner of Irish Book Award Medal and a Rooney Prize Special Award for Literature, 1987; contrib. to Kevin Whelan, et al., Atlas of Rural Ireland (1997); issued autobiograpy, My Time in Space (2001);
 
issued Tales and Imaginings (2002), a fiction collection of many years in the writing and inspired by dreams, travels and encounters from 1950 to 1960, incl. Malaya and Thailand in 1956; Norway in 1971; incls. ‘‘Orion the Hunter’’, previously publ. in The Best American Essays (1998), and dedicated to John Moriarty; also Connemara: Listening to the Wind (2006), and Connemara: The Last Pool of Darkness (2008), a second volume of autobiography, the latter subtitle being the phrase with which Wittengenstein described the region.

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Works
Topography
  • Stones of Aran: Pilgrimage [Vol. 1] (Mullingar: Lilliput Press /Wolfhound Press 1986), vi, 298pp.; Do. (London: Viking 1989), vi, 298p; Do. (London: Penguin 1990, 1997), viii, 302pp.; and Do. [rep. edn.] (London: Faber 2008);
  • Stones of Aran: Labyrinth [Vol. 2] (Dublin: Lilliput 1995), 504pp., and Do. [rep. edn.] (London: Penguin 1997), 512pp.
  • ed., Connemara after the Famine, Journal of a Survey of the Martin Estate by Thomas Colville Scott, 1853 (Lilliput 1995), 102pp.;
  • ‘Connemara after the Famine: Thomas Colville Scott’s Journal of the Survey of the Martin Estate’, in History Ireland (Summer 1996), pp.12-16;
  • The View from the Horizon, constructions by Timothy Drever, texts and maps by Tim Robinson, 1975-1996 (London: Coracle 1997), 60pp., ill. [some col.; maps], 20 cm [note].
  • Setting Foot on the Shores in Connemara and Other Writings (Dublin: Lilliput Press 1996), 240pp., and Do. [reiss. as] Connemara (Penguin Ireland 2007), 488pp;
  • ed. intro., J. M. Synge, The Aran Islands [1907] (Penguin 1997), 150pp.;
  • Connemara: Listening to the Wind (Dublin: Penguin Ireland 2006), viii, 439pp., ill. [map].
  • Connemara: The Last Pool of Darkness (Penguin Ireland 2008), viii, 373pp.
Note: ‘The View from the Horizon is the first attempt to link the works of the artist Timothy Drever with the writings of his alter ego Tim Robinson’ (ibid., p.[2] of cover.)
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Autobiography
  • My Time in Space (Dublin: Lilliput 2001), 224pp.;
 
Fiction
  • Tales and Imaginings (Dublin 2002), 256pp.
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Miscellaneous (selected)
  • ‘The Seanchaí and the Database’, in Irish Pages, 2, 1 (Spring/Summer 2003), pp.43-53 [infra];
  • ‘Ogygia Lost’, in The Dublin Review (Spring 2004), pp.40-52;
  • intro., Connemara After the Famine: Journal of a Survey of the Martin Estate, 1853 (Dublin: Lilliput Press 1995), xx,102p. : ill. [written by one Scott, an insurance agent from London];
  • Mementos of Mortality: The Cenotaphs and Funerary Cairns of Arainn [Inishmore], with photographs by Gilbert Stucky (Roundstone: Folding Landscapes 1991), 38pp., ill. [25cm];
  • ‘Two Wet Days in Roundstone Bog’, in The Irish Review, 24,  1 (June 1999), pp.125-29;
    Author: Robinson, Tim ‘The Globe’, and ‘Firewalking’, in The Irish Review, 25, 1 (Winter-Spring 1999/2000), pp.120-23, 124-36.

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Criticism
  • Breandán Ó hEither, review of Pilgrimage, in Times Literary Supplement (9-15 June 1989);
  • Michael Viney, review of Stones of Aran, in The Irish Times (23 Sept. 1995), Weekend, p.9;
  • Shirley Kelly, ‘Self-Made Man’ [interview], Books Ireland (Sept. 1995), pp.193-96;
  • Maurice Harmon, review of Tales and Imaginings, in Books Ireland (Dec. 2002), p.312;
  • John Wilson Foster, ‘Tim Robinson’s Variegated World’ in The Irish Review, 30, 1 [Nov.] (Spring-Summer 2003), pp. 105-13.
  • Joe Horgan, review of Connemara: Listening to the Wind, in Books Ireland (March 2007), p.52;
  • Sean Scully, review of Walls of Aran, in The Guardian (12 May 2007) [q.p.]
  • John Wilson Foster, ‘The Autocartography of Tim Robinson’, in Between Shadows: Modern Irish Writing and Culture (Dublin: IAP 2009), pp.118-28.
—See others under Commentary, infra.
Query: Patrick Curry, ‘Elegies unawares’, review of Stones of Aran [q.source];

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Commentary
Jack Hanna, review of Stones of Aran: Labyrinths, in Books Ireland (Nov. 1995), pp.282-83: Stones of Aran, Labyrinth (?1995); comments, ‘modes of thought in the great European tradition of Goethe and Ruskin reveal the stones of this bare rock in the N. Atlantic margins to be as worthy of consideration as those of Venice’.

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Luke Dodd, Director of Strokestown Famine Museum, reports on a paper on landscape and the Famine presented by Tim Robinson at at a Conference on Hunger (New York 1995), in Irish Reporter (3rd Quarter 1995), p.15: ‘although ostensibly dealing with the Martin estate auction of 1849, his paper combined official sources, folklore, cartography, and a deep feeling for the west of Ireland to produce one of the most moving papers of the conference. He was the only voice throughout the entire conference to mention, by name, some of those who perished during the Famine. he told delegates that he had eventually “stopped recording famine graves ... there is a limit to what one can carry of the past”.’

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Colm Tóibín, in Guardian, ‘Books’ (8 Dec. 1995), identifies Aran: Pilgrimage as his favourite book; speaks of how ‘the point where nature and culture meet in the island is observed with great beauty and precision’. (p.23.) See also his reference to Robinson in a review of Sean Scully, Walls of Aran, in The Guardian (12 May 2007): ‘Breandán Ó hEithir [...] made everything on the big island seem complex, not dreamy at all or romantic, funny at times yet worthy of detailed attention, he grew silent at the mention of the middle island, saying it was different and always had been. He spoke to me that day about Tim Robinson, a writer and mapmaker, who had come to live on the island and who had learned the language not only of the people, but of every stone and system, and written a number of superb books on islands.’

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Mary O’Malley, review of Tim Robinson, My Space in Time (2001), in The Irish Times (12 May, 2001); 11 essays; b. Yorkshire; serviced Bombers in Malaya; pursued an art career in London in the 1960s; moved to Aran in the 1970s; friendship with artist Peter Joseph.

Sylvia Thompson, review of Tales and Imaginings (Lilliput), in The Irish Times (19 Oct. 2002), Weekend: Robinson is winner of Irish Book Award Medal and a Rooney Prize Special Award for Literature, 1987 ( Stones); the present work inspired by dreams, travels and encounters from 1950 to 1960, incl. Malaya and Thailand in 1956; Norway in 1971; childhood in Yorkshire and at his adopted home in Roundstone, Co. Galway. Thompson writes: ’At times, the writing is self-conscious and laboured (he even scolds himself in one peace: “I’m always bidding you take your art easy, as leaves grow on the tree”). Yet, at other times, the reader is drawn into Robinson’s dreamy world and left with an appreciation of his absolute affinity with nature and human vagaries.’ [End.]

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Stones of Aran (Vol. 2, 1995), speaks of the ‘omnipresence of traces of foreignness, of other languages and cultures, in a place that through the work of John Millington Synge and others was closely identified with Irish language and culture and Irish cultural nationalism.’ (q.p.; quoted in Michael Cronin, Translation and Identity, London: Routledge 2006, p.16; quoted in Eamon Maher, review of latter, in The Irish Book Review, Summer 2006, p.6.)

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Quotations
The Seanchaí and the Database’ (2003): ‘Seanchas [old sayings], being the creation of an oral community, is rarely confronted with written records, whereas the database meshes technologically with library catalogues, book indices, web sites - and if this mesh is not perfect its failings are immediately apparent; discrepancies are like squeaky bearings in a machine. A database that draws on both traditional lore and written records will also show up inconsistencies, and in a clash between the official and the vernacular it is well to remember that error can be ingrained on either side or both. Thus for generations the well-read visitor to Roundstone has trotted out the received idea that “Dog’s Bay” is an ignorant corruption of the Irish Port na Feadóige, the bay of the plover - but this assertion is in fact incorrect. It arose from an ambiguously placed name on a map drawn by John O’Donovan for the Ordnance Survey in the 1830s, and was made generally known by Robert Lloyd Praeger in his book The Way that I Went. But in reality Dog’s Bay and Port na Feadóige are different places, as those locals who were not overawed by the prestige of the printed word could always have told us, had anyone asked them. Nobody did, and the mistake was copied from map to map and from book to book for a century and a half. / Unlike the database, traditional lore is very tolerant of internal contradictions and does not suffer from what Keats called the “irritable searching [for reaching] after fact and reason” - but this “negative capability”, while conducive to romantic poetry, is frustrating for the researcher. I remember getting unreasonably cross with a man I depended on for placename lore in An Cheathrú Rua who could tell me that a nearby stream was called Sruthán an Mhuillinn because there used to be a mill on it, and had wondered all his life exactly where that mill had stood, but had never to go a few hundred yards out of his way to walk along the stream and and look for its ruins. A small gap in his knowledge wsa no problem to him; but for me, the compiler of a databse, it was an annoyance, a scandal. In such respects the database is quite intolerant; its searchability and powers of cross-correlation depend on [48] consistent and methodical compilation, and in the face of ambiguous and doubtful data it simply sits down and refuses to cooperare. The database’s very format, in which each record consists of a number of “fields” or spaces each to be filled with information of a particular sort, prompts a drive towards full coverage and uniformity of treatment. Thus in the forthcoming Placelore of Roundstone Parish, there is a record for each place, and in each record are a number of spaces to be filled in with the history of the place, its archaeology, the meaning of the placename, the location, the associated oral lore, etc. And if I lack the information to fill in all of these “fields” there is an obvious blank. The database is, visibly, a mosaic in which the holes where bits are missing are objectionably apparent. The computer is insatiable, it hungers and thirsts for data. 1 know this as the master of a computer, or the slave of a computer. sometimes I feel as driven by it as a blackbird feeding a nestful of chicks. / This demanding nature of the database also gives it the intriguing and even addictive qualities of a game, a crossword puzzle, that one cannot relinquish until it is completed. And having covered one area, one parish, there is no reason not to go on to the neighbouring one. So the task will never be completed; it stretches to the horizon and beyond. As a game of patience, it will not come out this side of eternity. [...]’ (pp.48-49.)

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Connemara: Listening to the Wind (2006): The selling-off of Connemara is immensely profitable to landowners and developers, and as a result planning regulations are flagrantly subverted, with the connivance of clientele-dependent politicians. It corrupts our eyes; we see every field as a potential house site, flaunting a price tag instead of its ragged hawthorn tree ... yellow irises and buttercups are bulldozed and turned into level lawns ... loosestrife and meadowsweet go under tarmac as boreens are widened to accomodate SUVs. A suburb without an urb is coming into existence, a centreless anywhereville.’ (Quoted in Joe Horgan, review of Connemara: Listening to the Wind, in Books Ireland, March 2007, p.52.)

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