Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Cill Rialaig Artist Residency-Week One

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
Keep listening.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Cill Rialaig Artist Residency in Ireland

I'm heading off in two more days, to Ireland for my artist residency at Cill Rialaig. The Cill Rialaig Project, which opened in 1993, was founded by Noelle Campbell Sharp as a place where artists, writers and musicians can spend a period of dedicated time developing their own work. There are seven cottages, each with studio space, that were restored from the ruins of a deserted pre-famine village, circa 1796.  Situated on Bolas Head, a remote peninsula in County Kerry, the cottages sit on top of a cliff face overlooking Ballinskelligs Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.

 I'm going to meet up in Killarney with my dear friend Rebecca Crowell , an artist from the U.S.  We'll rent a car to get to this remote residency.  It's a 3 mile hike into the nearest town of Ballinskelligs so it will be convenient to have a car, and especially wonderful to have two of us to share the driving in case one is frightened of driving a stick shift on the left side of the road!  I can't even think about it.

I've heard from other artists who have been to Cill Rialaig before me and have read wonderful descriptions of the wild, remoteness of this place.  It has been described as a thin place, where the boundary between time and the timeless dissolves.  I came across the writing of  the UK poet Sue Hubbard, who spent time at Cill Rialaig and in conjunction with the artist Donald Teskey, published a book of poems and drawings inspired by the place, called The Idea of Islands.  
Here is a brief excerpt from her poem; Cill Rialaig

"A drunken wind blew all night,
banging at doors, rattling windows
ill fitting as old men's teeth.

Now that it's day,
I understand the loneliness
of storms as the distant island

beckons in the mist
like a half-remembered dream.
This is the edge of the world."

I'll do some painting and drawing as I explore my experience of this place and I expect that part of the experience will be to write as well.  There are ideas and words lurking in my head that want to be written.  I've decided to work mostly in black and white for this period of time, drawing and painting and working between the two.
After Ireland, my travels will take me to Scotland where I'll visit with my relatives near Aberdeen.  Then I move on to the island of Iona.  Situated off the coast of Mull in the Inner Hebrides, Iona is another of those liminal places where the veil is thin.  It has a deep spiritual history and thousands of pilgrims visit every year.   St. Columba arrived from Ireland to establish a monastery there in 563.  Iona quickly became a centre of learning and is often associated with the distinctive practices and traditions known as Celtic Christianity. It is thought that the Book of Kells was produced or begun here. Iona is now a centre for those of a variety of Christian faith traditions who choose to learn, pray and work together for peace and justice in the world. 

 I'll stay for a week in Iona at the monastery, taking a program  called Winter Quiet Week which will be a time of contemplation and reflection with guided teachings and meditations.  

"Is this place really nearer to God?
Is the wall thin between our whispers
And his listening?  I only know
The world grows less and less-"
(Iona by Kenneth C. Steven).

From a website on Druidry:
"If you feel the call of Iona, then answer that call and make the journey to her.
She is like a very old Crone, rocky and barren and eternally loving and gentle
and tough and wise. She is very old. She is very holy.
There is no other place on earth quite like Iona.
Like all Shamballah places, Iona shall always be.
Iona is a Grail-lit Isle. Iona is deathless.
On Iona one finds the Rainbow which bridges Heaven and Earth."
Philip Carr-Gomm

I look forward to an adventure in liminality-at the margins-where the ocean meets the land, where the sky meets the sea, where the land ends- the thin place between worlds.