Stones of Aran: Pilgrimage by Tom Robinson is an unforgettable evocation of a haunting place, brimming with human and natural history.
Tim Robinson was brought up in Yorkshire. He studied at Cambridge University and worked as a teacher and artist in Istanbul, Vienna, and London. In 1972 he moved to the Aran Islands, where he gained fame as a mapmaker. He learned Gaelic and began preserving Irish place-names, winning respect as an environmentalist and a Ford European Conversation Award. Stones of Aran: Pilgrimage, published in 1985, won the Irish Book Award Literature Medal and a Rooney Prize Special Award for Literature in 1987. His other books include Stones of Aran: Labyrinth, Setting Foot on the Shores of Connemara and My Time in Space.
An exquisitely detailed portrait of a special landscape, this is a gem-like addition to the travel genre. Robinson, an artist and cartographer, has made prize-winning maps of southwest Ireland and adjacent islands. Describing himself as ``self-appointed resident scientific busybody,'' he walks the coastline of Arainn, largest of the three Aran Islands, clockwise from the western edge, in an exploration of geology, topography, history, language and folklore. Arainn is limestone, and its natural forms are rectilinear. We see storm beaches--mile after mile of huge boulders stripped from the rim of cliffs and moved inland by wind. Robinson recounts hazardous sports once practiced by the natives--birdcatching and fishing from clifftops; he calls our attention to prehistoric sites and to abandoned forts. He takes a side trip by curragh to the Brannock Islands and meditates on the origins of placenames. Arainn's north coast was a center for kelp factories producing iodine and fertilizer in the 19th century; Robinson offers a vivid picture of that period as well. (July)