Are you in need of inspiration? Peace and quiet, solitude? Cill Rialaig has been described as the best kept secret in the arts world. It involves rescue and redevelopment of pre-Famine village of Cill Rialaig, at Ballinskelligs, County Kerry, as a retreat for artists, poets, writers and composers of national and international repute.
Its cottages are living-work spaces that provide for residents’ essential work and living needs, without television, telephones or internet. Residencies are offered free of charge, although there is a small service fee for utilities. Residents provide their own transportation, food and supplies.
Cill Rialaig is near impossible to find, even with your latest book,
Google maps or a Sat Nav, you will get lost looking for it.
Mary in the Ballinskelligs post office will be very useful to you. “Go to the end of the road, turn right and then stay left.” She smiled. “No, there’s no sign.” I threw in a go raibh míle maith agat for good luck but Mary’s directions (or my interpretation of them) landed me in someone’s back yard.
Three quarters of an hour later (having travelled a net distance of six kilometres from the post office) I pulled in beside a row of pretty stone cottages, their gable ends facing the sea. My phone identified my location as the North Atlantic Ocean.
Cill Rialaig’s setting
is dramatic; the land in front of the houses falls away to a sheer cliff.
Behind the village the hill rises steeply, sheathed in gorse and heather.
When you finally
arrive you are assigned a cottage. The first thing that hits you upon entering
the cottage is the light. With such small windows you would expect the houses
to be dark, but what you can`t see from outside was that a large part of each
ceiling is glass; the paint-splattered table and floor below are evidence that
this is the section favored by artists.
The living room is large with a turf-burning stove and bags of room (both physical and head) to write. Throw in an attic bedroom, a small kitchen and shower room and you have all that you need and nothing you don’t want – in particular, no television, no radio and no wifi. The space is instantly calming.
“This place is
indescribably beautiful; before me lies ocean, islands, sheer
cliffs, stone upon stone, grass and wind, flights, sounds and silence. At night, from
small window above my bed, I can see sky and sea and, when I close my
eyes, can sense their presence from sounds they make. But at times, in moments
of calm, there is nothing. I am completely alone here.”
The village or “clochan” of Cill Rialaig (Kildreelig) was built in 1790 after severe climatic change made an earlier sea side habitation further up Bolus Head Road impossible.
It is easy to imagine a great “meithil,” or gathering of people working feverishly with stone and thatch, scraw (a layer of turf on rafters), straw and reed to house these homeless people. Locals are proud that little fishing/farming community was “only half annihilated” by effects of Great Famine – some families clung on for another century, only finally abandoning village in 1950’s.
Left to fierce ravages of storms and great winds, houses soon lost their roofs, many gables tumbling in until arrival of two strong competing forces in 1989. There was a plan to demolish old ruins to make way for a new Ring Road.
“As a newcomer to this extraordinary place I couldn’t believe that people would countenance, for sake of progress, destruction not only of an historic pre-famine village, but also evidence of our past, if not nature itself,”
said Noelle Campbell-Sharp who encouraged a group of local business people to join her in buying the village site, effectively closing the entrance to “cul de sac” of Bolus Head and forming the community project of Cill Rialaig with purpose of using it as an artist and writers retreat.
Seven cottages have been rebuilt (by award-winning architect Alfred Cochrane) as self-catering artist studios – exteriors remaining faithful to earlier vernacular architecture, stone and thatch and some slate from nearby Valentia quarry.
blustery wet September day in 1991, then taoiseach
Charles J Haughey laid the foundation stone for the transformation of a group of
the ruined pre-Famine cottages on Bolus Head, Co Kerry, into an international
artists’ retreat called Cill Rialaig.
there, in this elemental landscape on the edge of Ireland, he paid tribute to
its promoter, Dublin-based publisher Noelle Campbell-Sharp, describing her as
“indefatigable” and expressing the hope that it would be developed “in harmony
with the local community”.
Founder Dr. Noelle Campbell Sharp wants the non-commercial ethos to remain, as she feels that “creative spirit soars in that environment, a place to escape to for tranquility and away from stresses of society”.
flaming red hair Campbell-Sharp has become a familiar figure in and around
Ballinskelligs. Her traditional-style holiday home, complete with a private
bar, The Anchor, was built in the late-1980s.
She is a
mover and shaker with two art galleries in Dublin (The Origin on Harcourt
Street and Urban Retreat, in the Grand Canal Docks) as well as founding the
Cill Rialaig Siopa and Art Centre in Ballinskelligs and, most recently, a
“pop-up art gallery” in nearby Waterville.
The latest venture, where the identity of any of the artists is not revealed until a picture is bought (all for €250), coincided with the first Charlie Chaplin Comedy Film Festival in Waterville, of which she’s a patron; Chaplin holidayed there for many years.
Republic of Ireland
Tel: +353 66 9479277
For an application and contact details on the residency see: Cill Railiag Project Application