We arrived in the blinding sun, driving our small rental car up the single-track road. Rebecca yelled when we got near the top of the road because neither of us could see ahead as we crested the hill. The edge of the cliff was on her side of the car! My artist friend, Rebecca Crowell and I are doing an artist residency here at Cill Rialaig in the small cliff-top stone cottages about 3km outside the little village of Ballinskelligs. Part of the pilgrimage here I'm sure is the difficulty finding the place. There are no signs and people give directions as though you've lived in the area all your life. "Go to the right past the Abbey, then turn left at the intersection and left again just before the Skelling Ring road". After several wrong turns and chats with local farmers, we finally found the one track road narrowed in with bushes and grasses, giving us an exciting 3km drive up to Cill Rialaig.
While we were lost and driving on the Skellig Ring Road, we rounded a corner to the breathtaking sight of the Skellig Islands which are about 6 miles off the coast. The larger one, Skellig Michael, once an ancient monastery site, rises like a castle from the silvery sea. I think we are too late in the year to take the boat trip out to see this World Heritage Site. The seas can be rough and wild in late October.
The landscape is out of this world. These remote cottages of Cill Rialaig are on a cliff overlooking Ballinskelligs Bay and the islands of Deenish and Scariff. Yesterday was cloudless with a brilliant blue sky, so you could see far across to the town of Waterville at the foot of the bay.
Today the wind howls outside my door and rain occasionally pelts against the skylights in the studio part of the cottage. I can feel a breeze inside my cottage! I think it will be the cold that I'll have to battle mostly this month. The room heaters I am told are on but they're set on timers that switch off after breakfast. So I'm now depending on the stove that burns peat logs. We buy them from a man who comes through occasionally and charges 6 Euro a bag. It's a lesson, learning how to light a fire with peat logs and no matter how adept I am at lighting a wood-burning stove, it takes me many tries to get this peat one going. Seems they use fire starter and wood kindling!!! Rebecca suggested that we need to think of this as camping!
The most heavenly thing though is that the shower is hot and the water has good pressure. So I might be spending an inordinate amount of time in the shower instead of looking for liminal spaces as I mentioned in my last post.
Other than the cold though, this is what I was looking for-the wild remoteness of the place. Seven cottages have been restored but several are still in ruins so you can imagine what a cold and hostile life it was for the people who lived here. A previous artist created a memorial to those people by carving words onto slabs of slate that he/she placed in a circle inside one of the ruins.
The words, written on stones are in a circle…the meaning can change depending on where you begin to read:
They die untold
Untold we die
This land gave us stories
Story shapes our soul
Once she spoke
Now she whispers