the guardian Fri 12 June 2009
"Connemara is both a certain tract of the Earth's surface and an accumulation of connotations: wild shores and tiny fields, famine and folksong, mountains, lakes, heathers and lichens, the O'Flahertys and the O'Malleys, deserted cottages and russet-sailed turf boats ..." And Tim Robinson is interested in all of it. Intent on finding every standing stone and unravelling every etymology, on making and correcting maps, on piecing together ancient tales and modern anecdotes, he works his way along the western coast of the part of Ireland where he has lived for 25 years. This is the second volume of a projected trilogy, and he is marvellous on "the numberless coccolithophores and the immeasurable worm" and other oddities of nature; thoughtful on religion and land ownership; vigorous on modern environmental threats. But I like it best when he surprises. Who else - without plunging into feyness or implausibility - could discuss the thought processes of sheep, fairies or Wittgenstein and map them on to a terrain?