Christine Cusick's essay ‘“And now intellect, discovering its own effects”: Tim Robinson as Narrative Scholar’ argues that scholarship rooted in both experience and academic discourse requires that we examine our assumptions about the sources of knowledge and about our hermeneutic relationship with this knowledge. In doing so, Cusick offers close readings of Robinson's writing as a way to interpret his praxis of narrative scholarship.
Catherine Marshall investigates Robinson’s relationship with other visual cultures in Ireland. Marshall places Robinson and his earlier persona Drever in a visual context of the west of Ireland, alongside other Irish artists such as Paul Henry and Seán Keating, inviting speculation on the artist as voyeur or social activist, on the relationship between images and words, and between art and power. Although Robinson’s maps and writings serve as typical entry points into his work, Marshall explores how they also function as artwork.
Eamonn Wall explores the methodology and reach of Robinson’s work. Even though Robinson is not connected to the academy, his work exemplifies the idea of interdisciplinarity. Wall argues that Robinson has moved slowly and respectfully, allowing him to undertake many avenues of inquiry to great effect that continues to remain relevant in Irish Studies.
‘Catchment’ is the word by which Tim Robinson designates a unit of the Earth’s surface bounded by higher edges and within which springs, rainfall and smaller tributaries converge, in most cases flowing onward to an outlet that joins it to a more broadly encompassing drainage. Every point on the Earth’s surface is mapped in such a way by elevation and the movement of water. In Listening to the Wind, the first volume of his Connemara trilogy, Robinson further characterises a catchment as ‘an open, self-renewing system, supporting and supported by a vast number of life-forms and all their interrelations’. Across the seasons and over the decades, Robinson has walked the catchments near his home in Connemara. In this essay John Elder argues that not only has Robinson come to know the catchments in intimate detail, but he has also tracked their confluence with the geology, language and history of western Ireland.
Derek Gladwin investigates how Collins, who is considered one of the most articulate contemporary documentary film-makers in Ireland, depicts Robinson as a mediator between landscape and culture through his own mapping enterprise. Gladwin suggests that Collins and Robinson share a similar desire in their own forms of documentation to examine the subject of Connemara in order to create a place-based art form that magnifies the landscape while reducing the primacy of the ‘maker’ in the process. Gladwin argues that Collins’s film Tim Robinson: Connemara is not only a documentary about the cultural imagination associated with Robinson’s production of map-making and topographic writing, but also about his process of capturing the essence of place, a process that comes back full circle to Collins primary aim in the documentary.
The collection ends appropriately with a poem by Andrew McNeillie that he wrote about Robinson. Furthering the creative process, McNeillie, who is both a literary critic and creative writer, diverges from the critical essay form and offers a creative reflection of Robinson’s relationship with the landscape and mapping upon his arrival to Ireland through poetic form.
Postcolonialism and ecology in the work of Tim Robinson
Eóin Flannery situates Robinson’s visual and verbal works within contemporary environmental and postcolonial contexts by arguing that his career and body of work are exemplary engagements with the diverse scales of environmental change, degradation and belonging across Irish history. Making reference to each of Robinson’s publications on Aran and Connemara, as well as to his essays, Flannery highlights how Robinson’s work restores a sustainable and ethical relationship with place in the Irish context: place as a historically rooted and valued, while also marked by conscious interactions with the cultural histories of that locale.
Patrick Duffy examines Robinson’s approach to representing the sense of place encountered in the landscapes around Galway Bay. For forty years Robinson has been committed to a minutely-detailed exploration of the rocky outposts of the Aran islands, the Burren and Connemara, all of which are ancient landscapes deeply incised with the marks and memories of human occupation for more than two thousand years. In a world of collapsing distances and faster, more wide-ranging travel, Duffy argues that Robinson’s works in map and text illustrate the potential and possibilities in a reversion to ‘slow’ landscapes. In this respect, Robinson’s ‘endless proliferation of detours’ on foot and bicycle, has permitted a more intimate engagement with nature, environment and community.
Over the years, Robinson’s writings have incisively documented what he calls the ‘ABC of earth wonders’ – Aran Islands, Burren, and Connemara. During this process Robinson has addressed the historical and geographical tensions that suffuse the Irish western landscape. However, attempting to place any sort of label on Robinson presents the largest challenge in a collection of essays devoted to his topographical writings and mapmaking. The aim, then, is not to define Robinson in some absolute binding way but, rather, to unfold the intricacies of the places that define his work and in so doing reveal his substantial influence on contemporary Irish culture. Christine Cusick and Derek Gladwin begin by offering an overview of Robinson’s work and demonstrate the need for such a collection since critical attention on Robinson’s work has gained momentum in the last several years. They then more closely investigate Robinson in two broad sections: one about his cartography and writing, and the other about the ways in which the writers in this collection engage with his work.
Reading Tim Robinson through Gluaiseacht Chearta Sibhialta na Gaeltachta
Jerry White explores some of the possible connections between Robinson and the debates in the 1970s about the Irish language movement. White examines the very beginnings of Robinson’s mapping career, drawing on both the historical narrative of Gluaiseacht Chearta Sibhialta na Gaeltachta (the Gaeltacht Civil Rights Movement) and early editions of Robinson's work and documents pertaining to this early Irish language movement through figures such as the film-maker Bob Quinn and the political journalist Desmond Fennell.