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Introduction: Ireland’s ‘ABC of earth wonders’ Derek Gladwin and Christine Cusick In my face, the Atlantic wind, brining walls of rain, low ceilings of cloud, dazzling windows of sunshine, the endless transformation scenes of the far west … The hill is Errisbeg, which shelters the little fishing-village of Roundstone from the west wind, in Connemara; … it has been my wonderful and wearying privilege to explore in detail over the last fifteen years,the Burren uplands in County Clare,the Aran Islands, and Connemara itself.1 – Tim Robinson Setting foot on the west of Ireland Tim Robinson’s work continues to garner significant cultural and critical attention both in Ireland and abroad. Over the last forty years, his maps and writings have incisively documented the geography of what he refers to as the ‘ABC of earth wonders’ – the Aran Islands, the Burren, and Connemara.2 During this process of detailing specific places, Robinson has addressed the historical and geographical tensions that suffuse the Irish western landscape, one that the epigraph to this introduction aptly suggests brings an‘endless transformation’of scenes.3 While there have been several selected reviews,articles and book chapters devoted to Robinson’s contribution to Irish Studies, there has yet to be a sustained cultural and critical study exploring the complex web of his identities as a cartographer,an ecologist,an environmentalist, a natural historian, a botanist, a mathematician, a geographer, an artist, a translator and a landscape or topographical writer. Reading Robinson with keen attention to these constitutive elements reflects what John Wilson Foster has referred to as Robinson’s‘Autocartography’ – describing the elusiveness of mapping not as a substantive practice of meaning but as a process of arbitrary signs, one that cannot (like the person himself) be reduced to ‘the sum of his formidable parts’.4 This collection – including fourteen essays and one poem, along with maps, artwork and photographs – offers an engaging and fruitful opportunity to examine the dense, stimulating and imaginative world that comprises Robinson’s work.5 Derek Gladwin and Christine Cusick 2 Robinson literally set foot on the shores of western Ireland in the summer of 1972. What began as a whim from watching Robert Flaherty’s mostly fictional ‘documentary’ Man of Aran (1934) soon became an obsession once he and his Irish-born partner, Máiréad, arrived on the Aran Islands.6 The desolate and intricate island landscapes were so captivating that they both ‘returned to live in Aran’ as soon as they could leave London.7 In the opening chapter of Stones of Aran: Pilgrimage, Robinson recalls what initially captivated and drew him to the west of Ireland were ‘the immensities in which this little place is wrapped’.8 While focused on the Aran Islands, this statement is indicative of landscapes as a whole and why, in addition to his work in the west of Ireland, Robinson’s distinctive methods of map-making and topographical writing capture the geographical and cultural consciousness not only of Ireland, but also of the entire North Atlantic archipelago – an epistemology that is characterised by the discursive spaces associated with real and imagined areas of land and sea through cartography, culture and ecology, traversing many national borders.9 Since arriving in Aran, Robinson has gone on to write several award-winning 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 more generally.10 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 in some absolute or compulsory way. Rather, this collection examines the geographical places that his work has centred on, as well as the methods he uses to explain these places, and how these geographies explain his growing influence in Ireland. By the same token, Robinson’s childhood in Northern England (Yorkshire) and time later spent in London and Europe provide a broader lens for examining his relationship with time and space in his map-making,and in the growing genre of what he refers to as topographical writing. His work, exhibiting both real and imaginative spaces, is not exclusively connected to Ireland. It is difficult to separate Robinson...


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