Connemara The Last Pool of Darkness is the second volume of Tim Robinson’s projected trilogy about the western portion of County Galway.
As before Robinson treats his book as a journey, in this case along the coast south from Killary to Slyne Head, but also a journey into the land through its geophysical mapping of history, language and culture. His explorations into the meaning of placenames, their history and through mistranslation their hidden history take him into realms of politics and social history, before bringing things back literally to earth.
Historically Connemara has meant many things, its absentee landlords in Famine eras enacting Malthusian social experiments on starving tenants, (and does that legacy of viewing the starving as feckless linger in ‘Irish jokes’) whilst the later nationalists emblemised its retention of Irish speaking as their ideal rejection of the English. Robinson finds within this the moments where Connemara abruptly rises up to become significant in the most unexpected of ways. Wittgenstein escaped the pressure of Cambridge here, Marconi sent his early wireless signals from the edge of Roundstone Bog where 15 years later Alcock and Brown landed. The remarkable chapter on Marconi manages to invoke Feynman with a mathematicians understanding, then link it all back to the landscape with simple clarity.
Elsewhere he articulates his affinity to the environment ‘ancestors are the people who occupied the land I now stand upon before me.’ And from there he takes on the language, that rich Irish that some of its finest storytellers never new could be written. In a chapter on 18th century smuggler George O’Malley ( a fabulist to match Trelawney, had his account seen print), Robinson writes:
‘The traditional singing of the West of Ireland called sean-nós, the old way, sounds strange to our ears, as it uses modes other than the major and minor ones we are familiar with, but it is worth persevering and learning to appreciate its expressive qualities. These are uniquely allied to the rich and complex phonetics of the Irish language. … it is as if the syllables of Irish have more space inside them. In fact there are Irish words so spacious you could hold a céilí dance in one syllable and a wake in another, without mutual interference. The art that explores these spaces inside words is sean-nós. In print, and in translation, I can only explore the outsides of such words.’
If you’re unfamiliar with Robinson’s works , to quote an old Irish joke I wouldn’t start from here. The Last Pool of Darkness is not so readable perhaps as predecessor Listen To The Wind, though it follows in its steps cohesively. Through all his writings, perhaps because he is an artist-mathematician turned cartographer-writer, there is a clear sense of prose shaped by landscapes rather than as so many tried prose imposing structure on the land. Modestly he denies writing a comprehensive guide, yet as William Least-Heat Moon described PrairyErth (perhaps the only other book like Robinson’s works) this is a Deep Map, deep enough when complete to map not the geography of Connemara but its soul.
Start then with Stones of Aran, or Listen to the Wind, I’m sure you’ll find your way here.
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