I recall when the long essay Setting Foot on the Shores of Connemara first appeared in May 1997 as part of a short anthology of essays by Tim Robinson. This was by way of preamble to the trilogy that would subsequently appear, at judicious intervals, in the new century.
My family had holidayed in Inverin, beyond Spiddal, around then, and I wanted to pass on Setting Foot to my mother to read. One of those June weeks that mix rain and sun in roughly equal measures, we were there shortly after that book's publication. I watched my mother - who was at the best of times a choosy reader - become completly absorbed by the account. The author revealed in this long essay, how he mapped the contours, inlets and rivers of the landscape, a task he had completed in the 1980s.
The author had mapped and charted the Aran Islands too, and had written in forensic detail about Aran Mór, the biggest of the three islands in the two-volume Stones of Aran.
Now, in the next two decades, in the trilogy in question he was about to tackle another soul territory, though it would very much be an account of the "body" of the place too. Irish, in spoken and written form is central to his investigations.
"The Irish names of Omey's five little townlands are indespensable," he writes, before listing them in detail and making sense of them in the topography of that far Western island (which is daily not an island for a period, due to tides.) "My bias is towards trusting the place's name for its very essence." he writes in Listening to the Wind, first published in 2006.
Robinson's trilogy would amount to a comprehensive profile, encapsulating in encyclopaedic, but highly accesible fashion the epic story of the place, based in large part on people he met and stories he heard of people long dead and gone. When mapping Connemara, he had come across 40 children's burial grounds, to take but one instance, and he would subsequently write about his visits there with great sympathy and tact.
He wrote too about the people who mapped Connemara in the 19th century. Letterfrack, of more recent history, was not omitted either - Mannix Flynn's return visit in in 2001 to the industrial school of which he was an ex-pupil, is recalled in The Last Pool of Darkness, which first appeared in 2008. There are accounts of Land War murders in Letterfrack - which translates literally as `Women's Rough slope' - and a fascinating piece on the Marconi station. In Roundstone, he journeys, enchanted around the many inlets of Slyne Head, in a boat owned by local resident, the composer Bill Whelan..
Robinson borrowed the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein's phrase for the latter volume's title. In 1948, Wittgenstein fled Cambridge to spend time in Connemara and wrote how he "could only think clearly in the dark" and how he had "found the last pool of darkness in Europe."
The peculiar magic of these three books, Listening To the Wind, The Last Pool of Darkness and A Little Gaelic Kingdom - which appeared only last year - is how the reader becomes Robinson's fellow walker and explorer. The author companionably takes us on the road with him and never talks down to us from any kind of lofty crag or misty mountain top. The natural history, the topography, the rich folklore - maritime, mountainous and otherwise - are Robinson's primary concerns, but he has a keen eye too for the offbeat and the humorous too.
We visit Famine graves, we hear at length of Maria Edgeworth, of WB Yeats and Maud Gonne, of Quakers, of Evangelical Protestants, of improving landlords and of rack renters. The paperback version of the final book in the series, A Little Gaelic Kingdom will appear from Penguin in June. I only wish my mother had lived to read the trilogy.