Acclaimed Connemara writer Tim Robinson dies at 85 from coronavirus

President Higgins pays tribute to author and artist who died two weeks after his wife Mairéad

Author Tim Robinson  near his home in Roundstone, Connemara, Co Galway. Photograph: Brian Farrell

Author Tim Robinson near his home in Roundstone, Connemara, Co Galway. Photograph: Brian Farrell

 

The acclaimed Connemara-based author, artist and cartographer Tim Robinson has died in London from coronavirus at the age of 85.

Mr Robinson, who was best known for his nonfiction trilogy of books on Connemara and two-volume study of the Aran Islands, had Parkinson’s disease.

He died in St Pancras Hospital in north London near his flat in West Hampstead, two weeks after the death of his wife and collaborator Mairéad Robinson.

The Yorkshire man, who made his home in the seaside village of Roundstone, Co Galway, has been described as one of the best nonfiction prose writers. The couple had moved from their home on the quay in Roundstone to London due to poor health.

Mr Robinson was born in England in 1935. He studied maths at Cambridge and worked as a visual artist in Istanbul, Vienna and London before moving to the Aran Islands in 1972.

His move to Ireland began a decades-long project of mapping and writing about the Aran Islands and Connemara.

Stones of Aran: Pilgrimage, published in 1985, won the Irish Book Award Literature Medal and a Rooney Prize Special Award for Literature in 1987. Stones of Aran: Labyrinth appeared in 1995.

He won two Irish Book Awards for his Connemara trilogy: Listening to the Wind (2006), The Last Pool of Darkness (2008) and A Little Gaelic Kingdom (2011).

Mr Robinson published a book of essays called My Time in Space in 1995. His last book, Experiments on Reality, was published in the autumn of 2019.

He was elected a member of the Royal Irish Academy in 2010.

President Michael D Higgins said: “It was with great sadness that I learned of the death of Tim Robinson, writer, illustrator, artist, mathematician, cartographer and member of Aosdána. For his family and for his wide circle of friends the news, so soon after the death of his wife Mairéad, is particularly painful.

“Having long been an admirer of Tim’s work, from the magnificent Folding Landscapes maps to his stunning trilogy on Connemara and his Stones of Aran volumes, I had the privilege of discussing his work with him on a number of occasions and developed a deep respect for the man behind these masterful works.

“He will be remembered for his deep understanding of and affection for the landscape, heritage and people of Connemara, the Burren and the Aran Islands, which allowed him to reveal, in such an engaging way, so much of that which had escaped the less trained, less thoughtful and less sympathetic eye.

“Tim Robinson was a scholar who shared his profound understanding of his surroundings, and sought to draw attention to the incalculable value of the natural world and the threats that exist to our linguistic, cultural and physical heritage.

“As a valued member of Aosdána and the Royal Irish Academy, Tim comfortably combined his scientific and artistic talents to enchanting effect in his wonderful publications. He was a scholar with unique and inter-disciplinary talents and an incomparable sense of wonder.

“Tim and Mairéad have left a magnificent and enduring legacy. Sabina and I offer the members of their extended family and their friends our deepest condolences.”

Prof John Drever, Mr Robinson’s nephew, said his uncle had desperately wanted to return to Connemara before his death and asked Prof Drever to bring him back to Ireland but he was unable to because of the author’s poor health.

“Tim was interested in everything – in geometry, in mathematics, in geology, in large-scale, cosmological things and small things too. Somehow in that part of the world, he managed to bring that together. Connemara captured both the very large and small-scale things for him,” he said.

“For an Englishman to be respected in Ireland, it was a special place for him – he appreciated that.”

Brendan Barrington, Mr Robinson’s editor at Penguin Books, described him as “one of the most brilliant writers in the English language, in any genre”.

“Working with him was different from working with any other writer, because he always knew exactly what he wanted to achieve and exactly how to achieve it. Being his editor never really felt like work; it just felt like a great privilege,” said Mr Barrington.

“The decades he spent mapping, and then writing about, Aran, the Burren and Connemara constitute one of the greatest cultural projects ever undertaken in Ireland.

“In this and in everything else he benefited from the most wonderful support from his late wife Mairéad – M, to readers of his books – and she had a huge part in his achievement.”

Bill Whelan, the Riverdance composer and a fellow resident of Roundstone, said that Robinson’s “reach” as an artist and author was “local and international.”

“It was of no surprise that when you were in a city like Boston you would see Tim Robinson’s books on shelves - and in some quantity – and at the same time he had such resonance in the local community,” said Mr Whelan.

Author Colm Tóibín described his Connemara trilogy as “a masterpiece of travel and topographical writing and a miraculous, vivid and engrossing meditation on landscape and history and the sacred mood of places”.

Praising his writing after the publication of the trilogy, Irish Times critic Fintan O’Toole has described Mr Robinson as “one of the best nonfiction prose writers currently at work.”

Robert McFarlane, author and critic with The Spectator magazine, said that the Connemara trilogy was “one of the most remarkable nonfiction projects undertaken in English.”