last days at cill rialaig
We are shrouded in mist and rain this morning—views of the islands and peninsula obscured. Lovely and atmospheric, though it’s not particularly encouraging me to take a morning walk. I’m enjoying just sitting by the fire and contemplating the time I’ve had here, full of gratitude for everything, including every person and situation that has brought me here. When I try to describe this experience, the superlatives that come to mind (amazing, fantastic, magical, incredible) fall short of conveying the depth, richness and beauty of my time here. I’ve often thought that for me, if I did not paint to process the experiences of life, I’d be living life on the surface only. I feel that very strongly here, and that my work is connecting me with the landscape in its colors, textures, mystery and atmosphere.
The surfaces of the paintings I’ve done here are for the most part quite worked over and layered, with an emphasis on complex visual texture. They are nothing like the quick, gestural work I imagined doing here--but in planning for an artist residency; it’s very hard to imagine ahead of time what will evolve. This is especially true if your intention is to respond to the experience, and what surrounds you. It is a lesson in the importance of following intuitive leads.
That lesson also played out in a road trip that my friend Janice Mason Steeves
and I just took to the adjacent Beara Peninsula. We learned so much…for one thing, that somehow, time and distance in Ireland are very different from what we are used to back home. According to google maps and my GPS, the trip over to Eyeries on the Beara (to see my friend Sally Bowker
who was on a retreat at Anam Cara) would take about 2 hours. So, our original plan was for a day trip on Saturday, arriving mid-morning, returning before dark, with perhaps a stop or two along the way to check out something of interest. In spite of our experience already on the very narrow, winding Irish roads, I was somehow picturing the timing of some similar trip back home that I make-- for example, a run into the Twin Cities for a visit and errands and back home in time for dinner.
Fortunately, before we left, we asked Jan’s visiting friend Mary Meighan
for some advice about the trip. (As an aside, Mary leads retreats in both Ireland and the US that focus on Celtic spirituality, and would be a wonderful resource for anyone interested in this aspect of Ireland. She finds that many writers and artists come away from her Celtic journeys with an enriched vision of the landscape and culture of the Celtic past, as well as connections with their own spirituality. While visiting at Cill Rialaig, she walked with Jan and I to the old monastic site above the residency houses, and gave to us a beautiful Celtic blessing as we gazed out over the sea. It was one of the most memorable moments I have had here. )
As Mary talked with us about our idea to go to the Beara peninsula, it became clear that we’d want to stay somewhere overnight on Saturday. The driving itself would probably take much longer than 2 hours, and there would be a lot to see along the way, including some megalithic stone circles. My first impulse was to go looking for wi-fi and research a place to stay for Saturday night, but Jan said, “No—let’s just let this trip evolve. No pre-planning,OK?” It took me a split second to shift gears and agree, but that is how we did it. I’m grateful now for that bit of wisdom about following intuition, because it made our trip far richer.
What followed was truly an adventure, and included not only the delightful visit with Sally, but a stop at the ancient Hag Stone of Beara, and an invitation to visit the studio of the Irish painter Charles Tyrrell
, whose work Jan and I both greatly admire. A generous and delightful man, he lives at the top of the steepest, most remote and narrow road imaginable…the drive alone was memorable, and the visit in his home and studio a gift. We also spent an hour or so at the beautiful Uragh stone circle near Kenmare. These stones are in the most tranquil, idyllic setting I have seen yet, overlooking a lake with a waterfall in the distance. To be among them in solitude and quiet was a deep, moving experience.
On a lighter note, our trip also included shopping in Kenmare (where I bought a gorgeous blue Aran knit sweater…and I literally never buy expensive clothing on impulse), several wonderful meals and stops for coffee, and visits to more than one pub for Guinness. By this point in my long description, perhaps you realize that our trip actually took more than one day and night. On Sunday we decided to extend it another day, and spent that night in Kenmare, arriving back at Cill Rialaig on Monday morning. On the last leg of the trip, we stopped to walk on the wide beach at Waterville to see if we could find the stone line drawing we’d made on the sand the week before, but of course, the sea had deposited it elsewhere.
I have to admit it was a challenge for me to let the travel flow, to say, “sure! Let’s keep going, and spend another day on the road…” But by the time we’d finished out visit with Charles Tyrrell and to the Uragh stones on Sunday it was late afternoon, and neither of us was up to finishing the treacherous drive back to Ballinskelligs in the dark, so that finalized the decision. (In places on that road, there is nothing but a low stone fence between the car and a steep plunge to the sea.) After a bit of internal resistance to staying on, I decided it to see it as another opportunity to let things flow and appreciate the moment. Looking back at those two days I see how one thing led to another and how things unfolded in just the right ways.
Tomorrow I’ll have to pack up my supplies to ship off, so this is my last full studio day. We leave Cill Rialaig Thursday morning to return our rental car, and spend the night in Killarney, and my plane takes off Friday morning for home. I’m savoring every moment of these last days.