Cill Rialaig Summer Arts Festival

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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.”

So wrote Luisella Carretta an Italian artist visiting Cill Rialaig in 1997.

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.

ON A 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.

Standing 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”.

With her 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.


Dun Geagan
Republic of Ireland

Tel: +353 66 9479277




For an application and contact details on the residency see: Cill Railiag Project Application

Application deadline: 15 March

The Cill Rialaig Project invite applications for residency awards at their artist retreat on Bolus Head near Ballinskelligs, County Kerry.

Cill Rialaig is located in the restored ruins of a 1790s pre-famine village. Seven individual cottage studios are occupied by artists; the eighth cottage, Tigh an Comhrá (Meeting House) offers a place for residents to gather or enjoy a rich library.

Residencies are open to full-time practicing professionals from Ireland and abroad for durations of one to four weeks throughout the year (the average residency being one to two weeks). Each resident occupies a small cottage with its own living and work space. Cill Rialaig is a quiet, remote retreat where one may temporarily leave ordinary domestic and work demands. The isolation offers the opportunity to focus entirely on one’s creative work without interruption.

Please note there is a submission fee of €35 to apply. For artists selected for residency there is a minimum utility fee and waste disposal fee to cover the high electric and waste disposal costs of €60 per week. Residents are responsible for their own transportation, food, solid fuel and art material costs.

Please email Mary O’Connor at for an official application pack.

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