Sunday, 5 April 2020

Rest in peace,Tim Robinson

I was deeply saddened to learn of the death of Tim Robinson in London on 3rd April 2020 at the age of 85 from Covid-19, just 2 weeks after the death of his wife and colaborator Mairéad, whom he always called 'M' in his books. Although I never met him, he has been part of my life through his maps and books for nearly 30 years.

When I first came home to Ireland, struggling with much sadness, my refuge and garden of delights was the Burren in Co. Clare, where I escaped for weekends to walk and explore as often as I could. Tim Robinson's Burren map was my constant companion. I revelled in its bare limestone rocks eroded by water, its botanical teasures, and the traces left by its human inhabitants over millenia, from neolithic tombs, through iron age forts, to medieval abbeys and cathedrals. My original map has become dog-eared and stained from use, but I have it still. I bought a second and a third copy, but I lent them out and they haven't returned - I will need to buy yet another when Covid-19 is over and I am able to visit the Burren again.

Tim Robinson's map, showing the location of
the ruined house of  'P. J. Kelly, Botanist, d.1937'
Tim Robinson's map, showing the location of
the Glen of Clab, and Poll an Bhallain
His map introduced me to many secret corners of the Burren. Places like the ruined home and overgrown garden of Patrick O'Kelly, an amateur botanist who made a living selling Burren wild flowers by mail order in the first half of the 20th century - there I found Coralroot (Cardamine bulbifera), an uncommon plant he must have introduced that still persists. And the Glen of Clab, the lined by spring gentians (Gentiana verna), leading to the massive circular depression Poll an Bhallain - a polje caused by the collapse of an underground cavern carved out of the limestone by water.

Later on, I discovered Tim Robinson's books, the 2 volume 'Stones of Arran', and the 'Connemara' trilogy. In these books he disects the landscapes to the minutest detail, recovers the stories of their inhabitants, and relates them all in a cosmic philosophy of wonder. His writing is gloriously evocative.

Most recently I have been reading his last book of essays, 'Experiments on Reality'. In the Preface he declares a materialist faith, writing:
'My focus is, as always on the multitudinous ways in which our physicak bodies relate to the physical universe. This commitment to material nature in its wondrous plenitude encourages me to reappropriate terms, themes and tones long regarded as the property of religion, and dares me to denounce supernaturalism as blasphemy.'
Although I am sure he would deny it, for me his life's work reveals more than a little of the glory of our loving Creator God.
Tim Robinson near his home in Roundstone, Connemara, Co Galway. 
Photograph: Brian Farrell

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