The death this week of the writer and cartographer Tim Robinson has touched us deeply. Tim died in a London hospital on Friday, a victim of Coronavirus. Tim’s death comes only a fortnight after the death of his wife Mairéad, a social activist, editor and great champion of the cooperative movement.
Tim and Mairéad were both highly educated and supremely gifted, each of them making significant contributions to the intellectual life of both Ireland and Britain. Tim’s remarkable work over four decades in the Aran Islands, the Burren area of County Clare and Connemara earned him a place in the pantheon of great Irish thinkers – although Tim adopted Ireland, and its people in turn adopted him. Tim was born in Yorkshire and studied at the University of Cambridge. He moved to Aran in 1972, producing two books on the Aran Islands, each one a deep meditation on landscape and history.
Tim Robinson’s Connemara Trilogy is a profoundly ambitious, yet touchingly intimate, study of a region that stands as a place apart in Ireland. The three books were published over a five-year period from 2006, but this was not the author’s first brush with Connemara. In 1990 he had published a remarkable map of Connemara.
Tim was a maker of maps – provocatively beautiful ones – and a shaper of myths. Few have been gifted with such remarkable geographical imagination, which for Tim found expression in a very personal literary cartography. Of the Connemara map, he wrote that it was “an intricate, knotted web-like walk that visits every place within its territory.” Walking was the cornerstone of Tim’s cartography, of his narratives, of his very being.
Tim recalled in 2001 that he was “acutely aware… that cartography has historically been associated with conquest, colonization, control. The Ordnance Survey was a function of the army. I have taken care that the mapping I have been essaying for the last quarter-century or so in the west of Ireland be one that returns the territory mapped to itself, to its inhabitants.” That quote perfectly captures the essence of Tim’s work, which was deeply rooted in place, memory and community. He gave a new lease of life to topographical writing and left an indelible influence on cultural geography.
Tim and Mairéad lived variously in the Aran Islands, at Roundstone in Connemara and in London. Together they founded and ran a small publisher called Folding Landscapes, which served as an inspiration to us when we created hidden europe in 2005. But Tim’s work was always in an altogether higher league than ours. Both he and Mairéad will be sorely missed.
It was Tim Robinson’s work which inspired our visit to Connemara last year.
Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, hidden europe magazine)