Unfolding Irish landscapes offers a comprehensive and sustained study of the work of cartographer, landscape writer and visual artist Tim Robinson. The visual texts and multi-genre essays included in this book, from leading international scholars in Irish Studies, geography, ecology, environmental humanities, literature and visual culture, explore Robinson’s writing, map-making and art. Robinson’s work continues to garner significant attention not only in Ireland, but also in the United Kingdom, Europe and North America, particularly with the recent celebration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of his monumental Stones of Aran: pilgrimage. Robert Macfarlane has described Robinson’s work in Ireland as ‘one of the most sustained, intensive and imaginative studies of a landscape that has ever been carried out’. It is difficult to separate Robinson the figure from his work and the places he surveys in Ireland – they are intertextual and interconnected. This volume explores some of these characteristics for both general and expert readers alike. As individual studies, the essays in this collection demonstrate disciplinary expertise. As parts of a cohesive project, they form a collective overview of the imaginative sensibility and artistic dexterity of Robinson’s cultural and geographical achievements in Ireland. By navigating Robinson’s method of ambulation through his prose and visual creations, this book examines topics ranging from the politics of cartography and map-making as visual art forms to the cultural and environmental dimensions of writing about landscapes.
books (in addition to dozens of essays), create topographical maps of the Aran
Islands, the Burren and Connemara, and deliver numerous public talks in Ireland,
England, France and the United States. Unfolding Irish Landscapes – derived from
the name of Robinson’s own map-making company, Folding Landscapes – seeks
to explore Robinson’s place in Irish Studies, as well as in North Atlantic studies
Attempting to label Robinson presents the largest challenge in a collection of
work devoted to his writings and maps. Our aim, then, is not to define Robinson
the documentary. Collins’s film
unfolds another dimension of Robinson heretofore overlooked: the very act of
map-making for Robinson is a documentary process. Throughout Collins’s film
there is a sense that Robinson, rather than functioning as a subject of the documentary, is the agent of his own documentary. To this effect, we can recognise
Robinson as a documentary map-maker – or as he describes it, the process of
‘translation of a geography into a graphic image’ – who captures the Connemara
landscape through the visual and written form of map-making, a form that
as many of the
superimposed English place names as possible – substituting the Irish names which
he has painstakingly recovered through a combination of bibliographic research
and conversations with elderly, Gaelic-speaking neighbours. Names and stories, not
simply rainfall, brings exactness to the map of Connemara’s catchments.
A reader who unfolds a copy of Robinson’s map while standing atop
Errisbeg, the 917 foot high promontory that presides over the south-eastern
edge of Roundstone Bog, will note that the map’s primary identification for
that peak is the much
in exchange for wool.23
A prose mapping that could easily revert to Robinson’s internalisation of encountering this island for the first time seamlessly unfolds into a relational experience
of navigation, the approach of the landing place maps moments of encounter: boatmen with ambling writer; granite with sea; canine with seal; rock shelf
with waves; seaweed with wool; women with island economy. And embedded in
each of these points of encounter is the crash of water against land, not merely as
a literary effect, but as an element of perception that impacts the
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.
Karen Babine argues that the genre of ‘creative nonfiction’, or the Montaignaian essay, is largely missing in the Irish context. Babine maintains that Robinson and Arthur represent two exceptions of creative nonfiction writers who are still thriving, and who both operate almost exclusively in the nonfiction genre (though each has published small exceptions in fiction and poetry).
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.
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.