Writers-in-Residence Comments

A Week of Words - Anam Cara

Breandan O’Broin won some writing time at the Anam Cara Writer’s and Artist’s Retreat on the Beara Peninsula in West Cork by penning a back-cover blurb-from-hell for his half-way-there novel No Siesta.  With the competition being one of our first on Writing.ie, we were delighted to hear his reflections on his visit.

The Harrington’s bus driver was way behind time when he picked the jaded writer up from the Anam Cara Writer’s and Artist’s Retreat at eight minutes past eight on a damp September Saturday morning.  It would be a bumpy two-hour dash via empty Adrigole and still-sleepy Glengarriff in order to make Cork City in time for the 10.30am train back to Dublin.  Pain throbbing in waves from a recently-busted shoulder was not going to make the journey any easier.  So in order to ‘giorraigh an bhothair’, the writer decided to follow the advice of the late Eamonn Kelly, King of the Seannachai, and tell himself a story in order to ‘shorten the road’….

The previous evening I had enjoyed my ‘Last Supper’ of  Lamb Casserole with gargles of red wine in the company of Sue Booth-Forbes, the director of Anam Cara,  and Mary-Ruth O’ Donnell, an academic from Missouri, here in Ireland to explore a recently-discovered passion for John Millington Synge.  I felt good, with 12,500 new words added in five fluent days to the 50,000 already in the can - or whatever the writer’s equivalent of film footage is called.  As occurred every evening, the talk at the generous Anam Cara table had swayed back and forth; veering between Ireland and America with mention of favourite authors, the world we live in, and our own creative work.

It seemed a long time since the previous Sunday night when that same Harrington’s Bus had deposited me in the dark unknown outside the house that was to be my home for a writing week.  I had a quick supper, a slow glass of red, and a careful unpacking because I am that sort of anal author.  My room was good-sized, with a double-bed dressed in blue, shelves of books and a window looking out onto… nothing.  It had been almost 30 years since I last lived in the countryside and I had forgotten what lightless looked like.  Soon, I managed to boot up my Acer Netbook and re-connect to the electronic world.  Broadband in Beara; an unexpected bonus - the Celtic Tiger had left some beneficial paw-marks after all.

The Anam Cara Writer’s and Artist’s Retreat was established in 1998 by Sue Booth-Forbes; an American who felt the time was right to rebuild her life around a new venture; a place where writers and artists could find inspiration in a naturally-harmonious setting set in an atmosphere of caring considerate love.

The beauty of the place could stimulate the mind, while the aura of Anam Cara would elevate the soul. As a concept, it clearly works.  The visitors’ book is crammed full of words of praise, affection and sheer joy at the achievements accomplished.

As a retreat, Anam Cara defies the normal ‘Irish Catholic’ understanding of the word where the seeking of spiritual awareness is somehow considered to be enhanced by a sense of corporal deprivation.  Lough Derg, it isn’t; there is no three-day fasting – although there are 5 acres to stroll around complete with many meditative hidey-holes and a labyrinth, presumably designed  to help one’s wandering storyline rediscover the correct path. In Anam Cara, you won’t feel deprived.  The food is excellent with a middle-American homely feel to it – corn breads, pasta with prawns, fresh-laid ‘easy- over’ eggs (or is it ‘over-easy’– I can never remember).  Massive pots of fresh coffee.  Unlimited glasses of spring water with as much ice as only a giant fridge can produce. You buy your own wine or beer from the local store in Eyeries and share with your fellow-diners.  But there’s not much by way of serious boozing – it’s early enough to bed, possibly preceded by a stroll to the beach and a pint in Causeys Pub or, in my sweet-toothed case, a pot of tea and a slice of raspberry & apple pie in Evie’s tea room.

The days at Anam Cara unfold in a series of different strokes for different folks; writers write and painters paint to their own particular patterns.  You can seclude yourself away in your own room or take your laptop or notepad and settle yourself anywhere around the retreat. The painters seemed to head for the large conservatory to take advantage of the light and the views.  If the day is fine, you can sit outside with your thoughts and Jack the Dog will come and keep you company.

If you’re bored, uninspired or just plain lazy, you’re welcome to browse the extensive library complete with an impressively heartening number of books published by Anam Cara alumni.  Or you can ascend to the loft, pop on a set of earphones and listen to music or watch a movie or TV.

During the week I was there, I treated myself to a deep muscle massage by a visiting therapist, Huguette, and was treated to an invitation into Castletownbere to the opening of an art exhibition in the Sarah Walker Gallery, perched aesthetically on the edge of harbour water.  Issie's Shop is to be found there too; with her handmade chocolates and home-made ice-creams.  And at the day’s dark end, what better way to prepare for sleep than to relax in the bubbling hot-tub on the patio and count the endless stars in the West Cork firmament?  Tomorrow would bring another day, and another two thousand plus words.

But after all is said and done, will No Siesta make it across the finish line, hopefully in far better shape than the author predicted in his winning submission?   When it does, then Sue and all those visitors who have imbued Anam Cara with its creative essence deserve this writer’s vote of grateful thanks.

He may well be back to give his story the final heave-ho...

(c) Breandan O’Broin, December 2011.


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