approached in the guise of fiction.
Again and again in Irish prose – from James Joyce to John McGahern – this line
between fiction and reality, between biography and fantasy, is negotiated.3
When looking at shelves of other genres, as written by Irish authors, this same
deep-seated negotiation is similarly applicable and is not confined to fiction, as
Hand suggests. Historically, Irish drama, narrative poetry, the short story, as well as
the novel, all move against and between and through the truth and reality found
in the story of self. Non
which gives Robinson’s work its plenitude and
its poetic quality. One of the characteristics of poetry, of any art, is the bringing
together of disparate elements and of arranging them into a harmonious whole.
This usually involves entertaining contradiction. As W. B. Yeats famously put it,
‘We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry.’15 This is one of the reasons why poetry can so often calm us where
nothing else can, reflecting, as it does, the way in which each human life entertains
: Oxford World’s Classics, 1992), 192.
2 Martin Heidegger, ‘What Are Poets For?’ [1950a], in Poetry, Language,Thought, trans. by
Albert Hofstader (New York: Perennial Library, 1971), 89–142 (139).
3 Tim Robinson, Connemara: Listening to the Wind (Dublin: Penguin, 2006), 1.
4 Robinson, Listening, 2
5 Robinson, Listening, 2.
6 Robinson, Listening, 3.
7 Robinson, Listening, 3.
8 Robinson, Listening, 3.
9 In so far as this is the case, one of Robinson’s intertexts – a ‘precentor’ (one who
sings before), so to speak – is the chapter entitled ‘Sounds’ in Henry David Thoreau
nodes of meaning, sound and experience pass between message and
recorder in a more generative process of cartography and thereby depart from
traditional forms used in colonial projects. In Pilgrimage, Robinson writes,
But I find that in a map such points and the energy that accomplishes such fusions
(which is that of poetry, not some vague ‘interdisciplinary’ fervour) can, at the most,
be invisible guides, benevolent ghosts, through the tangles of the explicit; they cannot themselves be shown or named. So, chastened in my expectations of them, I now
regard the Aran
rewards because the discipline is enriched by the meeting of
scholars across areas of inquiry. At the same time, we should not assume that the
interdisciplinary is a breeding ground for chaos where historians become experts
on poetry and literary critics provide the last word on agrarian conflict. For the
most part, the disciplines remain discreetly apart while accommodating each other’s presence and expertise particularly at some of the crossroads points in Irish
Studies – the 1916 Rising, for example. More than anything else, Irish Studies
organisations function as
land. In an essay from The Spirit of the Age, William Hazlitt identified the genius
of Wordsworth’s early poetry as ‘a proud humility’, taking ‘the commonest events
and objects, as a test to prove that nature is always interesting from its inherent
truth and beauty’.2 In the rapt attention Robinson brings to ‘the thousands of
tiny trickles’ in a catchment, he similarly asserts the significance of a boggy region
located far from any capital, and at the extreme western edge not only of Ireland
but also of Europe.
Figure 8 Map of Little Otter Creek in
Reading Tim Robinson through Gluaiseacht Chearta Sibhialta na Gaeltachta
, thousands of them
still bring their poetry into everyday life’.3 The way that Robinson combines an
awareness of how economic underdevelopment and language have been historically intertwined with an awareness of the everyday life of a specific community is, for
lack of a better way of putting it, very Gluaiseacht.
Another compelling reason for me to try to read Robinson though
Gluaiseacht is because, despite its historical significance, I expect that very few
people indeed would come to this essay and understand a flip statement like ‘it’s
very Gluaiseacht’. My general
communal space of other local names, and have
been recorded throughout Ireland in recent years in better resourced surveys and
at larger scales than Robinson’s maps.29
Throughout Ireland, local place names have a poetry that rhymes with local
identity and sense of belonging – names ‘that sigh like a pressed melodeon’ across
the landscape in the words of poet John Montague. The names on Robinson’s
maps ring with lyrical euphony too, and reflect an acute awareness of the local
environment: Nead an Iolra, Log an Fhia, Meall an Fhathaigh, Gob an Damha, Caladh
trust and complicity in the pursuit of the good step, Robinson creates a narrative drive through the otherwise overwhelming display of facts, history and
nature. Pollard describes stupidity’s ‘rich temporality’ in relation to contemporary poetry, and this richness is equally applicable to Stones of Aran: ‘Stupidity is
not the emptying out of history, a moment of stupefied ahistorical suspension;
rather, it shows up as an excess of history; a dense jostling of accounts, happenings and narratives; a piling up of voices interrupting across the past and