‘What makes a place out of a locality?’ was one of the many thought-provoking questions posed by Dr Tim Robinson, 2010–11 Parnell Fellow in Irish Studies, in his masterful 2011 Parnell Lecture, delivered at Magdalene College, Cambridge, yesterday.
Charles Stewart Parnell (image from www.nndb.com)
Named for Charles Stewart Parnell, the ‘Great Adulterer’ and Magdalene College dropout still beloved of the Irish people, the Parnell Fellowship and Annual Lecture have provided forums for some of the most talented minds in Irish studies. This year the polymath Tim Robinson — author, mathematician, geologist, poet and cartographer (among other things) — skillfully expounded upon potential threats to the landscapes and seascapes of the Aran islands, Burren and Connemara; places on which he has become the greatest commentator and authority since J. M. Synge. His discussion of present day (and potential) adverse human impact upon these areas, both upon the physical environment and our perceptions of place, was set within an impressively large timeline stretching over geological and environmental eons. Questions from the audience, however, indicated that not everyone was in complete agreement with his assessment of modern human impact vis-à-vis that of previous generations and indeed natural forces of much longer duration. I came away feeling that while Robinson has not squared this circle, his answer to the above question, ‘it is the attention which we bring it’, is deserving of deeper reflection somewhere in the ‘long dark night of the intellect’ upon which he has previously written.