Memory is a treacherous thing. At an event in Roundstone several years ago, a renowned sean-nos singer forgot the words to the second verse of a song he was singing to a hushed audience. For a few tongue-tied moments, there was a deadly silence, and after a respectable amount of time had passed someone quietly whispered: ''Tim, help him out, you know the words of that song." The instruction came from Mairead, Tim Robinson's wife, prodding him to lend the singer the first line of the missing verse, which he did with his usual quiet and gentle grace.
The fact that the words of an old Irish song about a smuggler from the west of Ireland were temporarily mislaid, only to be ''found'' again by this Yorkshire man, was not lost on that particular audience.
Everyone gathered in the hall that day knew who Tim Robinson was, and there was an unspoken acknowledgement that it was entirely appropriate that it would be he who should provide the gift of the key line to unlock that particular song-memory.
But how did an Englishman, trained in mathematics at Cambridge, and a visual artist who lived and worked throughout Europe come to know and love the intricacies of the Irish sean-nos song tradition? How was it that the foremost modern writer of landscape and nature in English would also be awarded the prestigious MLA international translation prize for his Irish-language work with his friend Liam Mac Con Iomaire? And why did he turn his hand to create one of the most extraordinary cartographic legacies, in both word and image, that the modern era has seen?
Tim and Mairead Robinson moved from London to the Aran Islands in November 1972, leaving behind them Tim's growing reputation in the avant garde art world, and bringing nothing but a suitcase and a way of being that would require a radical translation in so many different ways.
His first foray into map-making was occasioned by a conversation he had with Maire Bean Ui Chonghaile, who ran the local post office in Cill Mhuirbhigh, as an updated map of the islands for tourists was badly needed. The results of this now famous comhra would engender the maps of what he later called himself ''the ABC of earth wonders'', the Aran Islands, the Burren, and Connemara.
One might imagine that it was not by accident that their Roundstone home was formerly a lace-making school during the period of the Congested Districts Board, later to be repurposed in the 1950s as a knitwear factory under the auspices of Gaeltarra Eireann. Such touches of the hand, and the delicate re-stitching of language and place back into living memory, are evident with every step Tim took across the west of Ireland - steps that would take on new lives in his maps and writings.
Such a rich legacy is extraordinarily difficult to categorise and fully comprehend. As the filmmaker Pat Collins tweeted, upon hearing of his death, Tim Robinson was ''without equal'.
His acute awareness in being an Englishman in Ireland, arriving during the Troubles, was counter-balanced by a different agenda where the social and the environmental were deeply interconnected. ''To undo a little of this damage has been for me, an Englishman, a work of reparation,'' he would later write.
His painstaking documentation and acknowledgement of people and place in his work means that his writing ranged from local micro-histories to speculations as to our collective cosmic futures. Indeed, in one of his last essays, he wrote that ''geophany'' (the ''showing forth of the earth'') should be our means towards ''a reformation of values''. Before any Covid crisis, he understood that our natural system is deeply connected to our social system, and that bearing witness to the languages in which we describe our world is vital to our survival as a community, as a people, and as a species.
We were all so deeply saddened to learn firstly of the passing of Mairead in their London home on Saint Patrick's Day. Tim followed her shortly afterrwards, dying on April 3. Mairead matched her wonderful humour with an equally powerful intellect and exuded an exacting kindness at every step.
While she was (as one friend observed) the ''Guardian at the Gate'', Mairead maintained the day-to-day business of their publishing company Folding Landscapes and was always Tim's first reviewer and last audience of the day - as they often used to read to each other in the evenings. In a world where so much seems to be out of kilter, there is an uncanny geometry in their passing, and some consolation in knowing that one was not long without the other.
We are fortunate that, like a forensic archaeologist, Tim documented his findings in his maps and writings and gave us a glimpse of his rich treasure trove for us all to marvel upon in his archive now housed at NUI Galway. His artwork was bestowed to the Irish Museum of Modern Art, and the copyright of the maps was given to the Royal Irish Academy. They left us, as they arrived, quietly but leaving the gift of their friendship and work to the people of Ireland. In so doing, the Robinsons gifted back many communities (both at home and abroad) their cultural and linguistic inheritance, and gave a nation back a vital part of its history and heritage.
In a time when we can only walk 2km from our homes, constantly checking a mental A to Z list of our loved ones, let us pause and take this lesson from a master. That we may relearn how to celebrate what we have and give thanks for our own ABC of earth wonders, our people and our places, wherever we are today.
As he wrote in the final line to the preface of his last published work: ''No, there is only one world, and that is all we need to know.''
Ar dheis De go raibh a n-anamacha uaisle.