President of Ireland pays tribute to West Hampstead writer Tim Robinson
The 85-year-old died in St Pancras Hospital after being diagnosed with coronavirus
06 April, 2020 — By Tom Foot
His last wish was to walk the Irish bogland that inspired him, said nephew
THE President of Ireland is among leading figures to pay tribute to an award-winning writer who died after a coronavirus infection.
Tim Robinson, 85, who also had Parkinson’s Disease, was celebrated for his nonfiction books about Connemara and the Aran Islands, west Ireland. He had lived in West Hampstead for 50 years.
Famous writers including Colm Tóibín, Fintan O’Toole and Robert McFarlane have paid tributes and also the
President Michael D. Higgins, who said: “Tim and Mairéad [his wife] have left a magnificent and enduring legacy.”
Mr Robinson was also fascinated by the mysteries of the cosmos, mythology, and had spent decades reworking British-made maps of Ireland to make them historically accurate.
His last wish was to return to walk the Irish bogland that had inspired his vast body of work.
Mr Robinson died in St Pancras Hospital two weeks after his wife and long-time collaborator Mairéad Robinson.
His nephew, Professor John Drever, who was his carer in his final years, told the New Journal: “His wife had suddenly died and it did feel as if both their work together was finally over. The idea of them being old, and ill had never crossed their minds. They were a very loving, very special couple.
“I went to see him in St Pancras to tell him about Mairead’s passing and he didn’t really understand. His GP had rang up to say his death was coronavirus positive. But he wasn’t on a ventilator, and was in a rehab ward.”
Prof Drever said that Mr Robinson had been “writing down his dreams” since his infection, which were the “kind that people would find terrifying as they were so vivid”, adding: “He was taking a kind of creative sustenance from his condition, informed by his knowledge of antiquity and the cosmos.”
Mr Robinson and his wife, until three years ago, shared their lives living half the year in Roundstone, Galway, and the other half in a flat. Ill health prevented them from travelling back to Ireland recently.
Prof Drever said: “When they were in West Hampstead they basically cut off from everyone – that’s where a lot of the writing happened. There are also unpublished diaries that we have found also. So it looks like there will be more to come.”
The couple had no children, allowing them the “ability to focus” on what became a prodigious body work, said Prof Drever.
“The idea of being stuck in West Hampstead was unimaginable,” he added. “Tim kept asking me to take him there but I was terrified about because I thought he would die out there in a bog. Basically, his last wishes were to walk the bog.”
Mr Robinson has been described as one of the best nonfiction prose writers of Ireland. He was born in Yorkshire, he studied maths at Cambridge and worked as a visual artist in Istanbul, Vienna and London before moving to the Aran Islands in 1972.
He spent decades 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.
In a statement, President Higgins said: “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.
“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.”
Last week, the New Journal published a notice about Maireed Robinson, who worked at the Camden Arts Centre describing her as an “organiser and a committed exponent of the great ideals of Co-op principles as well as the West Hampstead Housing Association, all of which gave young people a home”.