Connemara: Listening to the Wind – Tim Robinson
Tim Robinson died in spring 2020. He and his wife had relocated from Connemara to London after Tim developed Parkinson’s Disease. He died of COVID, following the death of his wife two weeks earlier. Robinson’s passing at the age of 85 is a tremendous loss. His documentation of the landscapes of the Aran Islands and of Connemara are unmatched.
Robinson started out in this book describing his work to document place names. This was a very complex task. Place names can change, be forgotten, and disappear. He sought out people who could guide him – either in words, or by taking him there – to places around Roundstone where he lived. Robinson also dedicated time to learning the Irish language, an important aspect of documenting place names. This work of course brings to mind Brian Friel‘s brilliant play Translations about the struggles in 19th century County Donegal, Ireland of local Irish speakers who push back against the anglicization of local place names.
Robinson takes us to a local cemetery and tells the stories of the numerous dead in unmarked graves including unbaptized babies and famine dead. There is a poignant story about a local man who was released from the workhouse in Clifden and got lost on the long walk back home. He died of exposure in the unrelenting winter cold, and was found in the spring, hidden beneath a hedge.
He tells the history of Roundstone is detail. At one time, a single family, the Martins owned a huge piece of this part of Connemara. Their legacy is mixed, but they certainly weren’t among the worst of local landlords. Roundstone and its places has been visited over recent centuries by figures such as Grace O’Malley, the writers Thackery and Somerville and Ross. There used to be a luxury hotel directly across from a train station, until it was burned down during the Irish Civil War by the IRA. The book is chock full of local history and for that reason it is a great resource
Nature is at the heart of Robinson’s work. The section that captivated me was his writing about the Derryclare woods “the best-preserved relic of the forests of the pre-human millennia. There are sessile oaks, ferns, lichen and shrubs. Because of the cool Atlantic climate, this forest is quite different from the conifer plantations that have taken over much of the Connemara landscape. Some of these plantations have been removed because they were interfering with local nature.
There is so much in this book, and so much more that could be said about the work of the brilliant and dedicated man.