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Máiréad Robinson obituary | World news


In 1972 Máiréad Robinson and her husband Tim, the writer and cartographer, left their home in West Hampstead, London, for the west of Ireland, where they lived for more than 40 years. Máiréad, the mysterious and beloved “M” of Tim’s books, was his creative partner, his office manager and the publisher of his maps through their imprint, Folding Landscapes.

Máiréad, who has died aged 85, also had her own life as an independent scholar and activist. The Robinsons returned frequently to a flat in London, and her community activism in West Hampstead in the 1970s and 1980s during winter breaks was mainly focused on housing. She was vice-chair of West Hampstead Housing Association and a committee member of West Hampstead Housing Co-op. Both organisations provided low-rent, nonprofit housing, and enabled many young people to live in London. She also championed the community theatre group Mombasa Roadshow.

Máiréad was born Margaret Fitzgibbon in Loch Garman, County Wexford, and first moved to London in the 1950s to train as a lawyer. She mastered Gaelic, Italian and French, and read Latin and ancient Greek. Her reading was eclectic, ranging from Dante to the memoirs of 18th-century French aristocratic women’s salons.

She met Tim Robinson when, as recent graduates, they were renting rooms in the same shared house, and they married in Islington in 1959. They moved to Istanbul to teach and later to Vienna, where Tim began to develop his work as a visual artist. On their return to London, in the 1960s he exhibited under the name Timothy Drever and Máiréad worked as a manager at Camden Arts Centre.

I first met her around 1970 or 1971 at a London arts event and we soon became close friends. By then, life in the capital was becoming more difficult for artists and Tim was keen to leave what he described as the “egotistical dynamism of the London art world” after an aimless, wandering year, despite successful exhibitions in 1969 and 1970.

When I went round to visit her in 1972, I was shocked to see Máiréad had chopped off her hair in preparation for their move to Ireland, prompted by viewing Robert Flaherty’s film Man of Aran. The couple lived at first on Inis Mór, the largest of the Aran Islands, and in 1984 they moved to the tiny harbour village of Roundstone, in Connemara.

There, Máiréad established Folding Landscapes, a small press that printed and sold Tim’s maps. They repurposed an abandoned lace-making factory overlooking the Roundstone harbour as a home, studio and walled garden. It has been described both as a “monastery built for two” and as one of the most beautiful buildings in Ireland, with stunning views over the bay to the mountains.

Máiréad was a brilliant host. Among the many events she and Tim ran were the annual Conversations, where scientists and artists would discuss their work; University of Galway poetry summer schools and symposia; and intensive screen writing courses. Their regatta party would see her catering for the scores of visitors who watched the red-sailed old hooker ships from their terrace.

After a visit to West Hampstead at the end of 2015, they were prevented by ill-health from returning to Roundstone. Tim survived Máiréad by two weeks.

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