Traces of the Gothic in Connemara

During a screening of Tim Robinson: Connemara last September I was fascinated by the gothic undertones that appeared to colour the film. The discussion with director Pat Collins after the screening further conjured gothic tropes that have been explored by our Irish Gothic class thus far this semester. Now that we are coming to the end of that section of the course, I felt it would worth while to document the overlap between Collins’ seminar and the gothic characteristics of Connemara’s desolate landscape.

Tim Robinson: Connemara explores the relationship between people and land in remote parts of Ireland, and of the titular characters efforts of create a map of the land with exquisite cartography. Robinson walked every inch of the land and measured distances with footsteps, which one member of the audience stated astutely was reminiscent of Eliot’s coffee spoons. Collins remarked their aim was, ‘’to restore the small place. How people live there and interact with the landscape.’’

The chronicle of the small place appeared bleak. Every few years the inhabitants of Connemara like many rural places, must burn ferns in the fields to keep their relentless growth in check. Sisyphus would be proud. Upon burning the ferns they discovered the remnants of famine fields that once fed some of the eight million inhabitants of Ireland. The ghost of the past resurfacing to confront contemporary Ireland with it’s ghoulish past struck me as quintessentially gothic.

Similarly, the film uses archival footage of the villages rather than modern as both Robinson and Collins felt it was more authentic. While upon viewing the film one indeed feels this is the case, it is prudent to question why. The grainier footage of the past better suits the atmosphere and tone of the film. Like the hidden famine fields, the old Ford Cortinas and aran sweater clad populace appear as ghosts inhabiting a forgotten land. Past illusions encroaching uncomfortably to contemporary society is a classic gothic trope whereby the future is a mystery blotted by the past.

Robinson silhouetted against the magnificent Connemara landscape.

Collins stated the Irish village has been in decline since 1851, and as such part of the documentary fells to be a filmic obituary. However, following Tim Robinson’s viewpoint is far from a wholly morose endeavour. The beauty and spectacle of Connemara’s quiet forests, ferocious shore and grand mountains all offer an example of the sublime. To achieve wonderful representations of the landscape the film crew would travel far beyond the roads and into the middle of these expanses. Collins stated a personal disdain for crews that ‘’film from the roadside’’.

Robinson’s propensity for tying folklore to the landscape conjures more ‘ghosts’. While the director doesn’t share this particular viewpoint, preferring instead to view real human interaction with the landscape, there is no dissonant conflict evident in the film. Both viewpoints coexist and we are free to project onto the landscape whatever sentiments we have as viewers. The patient style of filming allows for long shots of landscape uninterrupted by monologue. In quiet reflection each viewer is free to interpret as they see fit.

Works cited

Collins, Pat. “Tim Robinson: Connemara.” Landscapes, Environment and Heritage in Irish Studies Workshop, 22 Sept. 2016, University College Cork, Cork. Q & A.

Collins, Pat, director. Tim Robison: Connemara. Harvest Films, 2011.


Author: Daniel Lynch

Irish Literature & Film MA student.

3 thoughts on “Traces of the Gothic in Connemara”

  1. Have you seen Collins’ film/documentary titled Silence? Based on this blog entry, I think you would really like it. The premise is that a sound engineer is travelling around Ireland trying to record areas that free from man-made sound. What his journey reveals, however, is a landscape that, even when seemingly empty of people, always carries the echoes of those who have been there in the past. Like all of Collins’ work, it’s beautifully crafted.

    Liked by 1 person

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