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Anyone who knows Armagh at all well will be familiar with the architectural legacy of Richard Robinson, who was the Church of Ireland archbishop there from 1765 to his death in 1794, and built the archbishops' palace, the old library and the observatory, the latter intended to be the nucleus of a university which never came into being. In this short book Malcolmson deconstructs Robinson's record, pointing out that after the first twelve years of his almost three decades at the top of the Irish ecclesiastical tree, he did almost nothing, lingering in England for the sake of his health; and also cruelly pointing out that given the resources available to him, both financial and architectural, one could reasonably have expected something more substantial and interesting to be done for Armagh - the great Francis Johnston was involved but only at the very start of his career. Malcolmson is also critical of Robinson's political apathy; having reached a key position in the Irish scene at a relatively early age, he then did nothing with it but block his rivals, and even lost interest in doing that after 1779.

It's an entertaining bash of a little-known figure. I do think it's a little unfair. Robinson's buildings in Armagh are still pleasing elements of the townscape over two centuries on, and he also built the Canterbury quad at his old Oxford college, Christ Church. Given the poisonous politics of the time I think silence in public discourse is a perfectly defensible strategy. And even by Malcolmson's account, Robinson remained moderately active in public life until after his seventieth birthday, at a time when male life expectancy was half of that. It's fair to say that he was more mediocre than I had realised but he had never been a particular hero.

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
wwhyte
Aug. 7th, 2011 12:09 pm (UTC)
It seems too easy to bash people for things they didn't do. There's always one more thing. If you do some good and only a minimal amount of harm that should be good enough, surely?
nwhyte
Aug. 7th, 2011 04:55 pm (UTC)
Yes, it's a mean-spirited approach only slightly lifted by the entertaining style and level of detail. I think Malcolmson is basically annoyed that the archbishop he is really interested is generally sidelined, in his view wrongly, by Robinson's more glamorous record.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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