Did you ever linger in the last pages of a book because you just didn’t want to let it go? I’ve been reading the final installment of Tim Robinson’s Connemara trilogy, Little Gaelic Kingdom. For weeks I have shrugged off geography and time and returned to the wild place that I have loved for so long I can smell the air at the mention of it. In Robinson’s words and thoughts I am fourteen years old with the surf crashing over my feet at Roisin na Manach. I am skipping bog pools on the trail up to the Mass rock overlooking Kilkieran. I am chanting verses of Peigin Litir Mor in the ramshackle coach that ferries city kids to and from Irish college each Summer. The landscape and language of Connemara moved me with seismic force at that formative time.
Tim Robinson is one of my literary and environmental heroes. I recall a later time when I was teaching a field school in the West and rambling about Roundstone in the hope that I might stumble across him and impress my students, but perhaps he knew that and kept a canny distance. A writer with sufficient wisdom to balance nostalgia with realism, empathy with empiricism and the mental dexterity to explain the Connemara coast with fractal mathematics.
It would be easy, lazy even, to look back twenty years to that Summer in Irish college and romanticise Connemara, but I’ve lived enough in a remote rural place to know better.
In the twenty years of meticulously mapping, researching, gathering and compiling Robinson doesn’t romanticise either, and this is something I admire. Alongside the quaint eccentricities and wry humour he accounts for centuries of social and economic deprivation, oppression and the sheer brutal struggle to survive in an environment as hostile as it is beautiful.
There are so many parts of Scotland that this writing could be about. Many times while out on the Morar coast or the more westerly islands, Tiree in particular, I’ve felt a sense of Connemara, that Atlantic light with the darkness gathering behind. A vision symbolic of its predicament; the light and the dark. I leave Connemara as if it were a physical leaving. I wonder when I’ll be back there again. In such times as these, I wonder how I will find it.
- Connemara: A Little Gaelic Kingdom, By Tim Robinson (independent.co.uk)