Nestled between the mountains and the ocean in a remote corner of southwest Ireland is Anam Cara, a retreat for artists and writers. The Celtic term for “soul friend, anam cara was a companion sought by ancient monks to help bring clarity and creativity to the journey through life. One group of monks lived 8 miles off the western coast on the Skellig Islands. Coming around a curve on the way to Anam Cara, I catch a glimpse of the Skelligs through a lacy curtain of Irish mist.
Most visitors to Ireland circle the Ring of Kerry and scoot right past the remote Beara Peninsula to the south. The drive west toward the ocean is a pre-show for the ride to come, taking me along winding roads, climbing high into the mountains and then twisting down to the sea. Just a few curves and a narrow bridge beyond the tiny town of Eyeries is Anam Cara.
Six years ago, Sue Booth-Forbes left Boston and came to Ireland chasing her dreams. She transformed a house into a home where artists find a welcome port in the storm of creative chaos. The blue and white house sits back from the road, blending into the landscape. I park the car and gather my belongings. Approaching the front door, I’m suddenly nervous. I knock tentatively and the door opens. “Hi, I’m Sue, you must be Dianne. Come in.” So starts my week in this place of peace, encouragement, and inspiration.
Sue introduces me to the other guests: Larry, an English teacher from Buffalo, New York; Russ, a linguistics professor from Portland, Oregon; and Gordon, a novelist from Savannah, Georgia. Together we will share meals and walks, stories and poems, hopes and dreams. I’ve packed a couple of goals for the week. Now that I’m here, they feel very heavy. An idea for a book floats in my head, but like ancient explorers to Ireland, my ship is lost in heavy fog, circling the cost but unable to find a clear spot to land. Over the next week I hope to blow the fog away, give structure to the plot and find a voice to tell my story.
The retreat is cosy and comfortable. Bedrooms beckon with fresh flowers, a desk and a soft bed. Some rooms overlook mountains; from others there is a glimpse of the sea. The house is a showplace for creativity—with books, paintings, and pottery throughout. Sue provides lots of research books as well as a computer and printer. Meals are prepared and shared in the combo dining-kitchen area. Sue does the cooking, but there is a help-yourself atmosphere and everyone pitches in during his or her visit. After dinner, pour a cup of tea or a glass of wine and gather by the fire to share stories of the day—and, if you’d like, offer your work to the group for critique.
On a sunny afternoon grab a walking stick and step outside where palm trees dot the landscape and spring flowers are in bloom. This part of Ireland picks up the Gulf Stream and the climate in March is like a cold Florida day. Walk east toward Eyeries and a stop at the local pub. Walk west to the rocky coast of the Atlantic Ocean, climb to far-out rocks (if you dare) and sit still surrounded by crashing waves.
The best walks are right out the retreat’s back door. Tony O’Shea has created “nooks and crannies”—benches alongside a stream, a hammock swinging near a waterfall, and large stone seats nestled among bushes. Every sense is awakened. My eyes take in the beauty of mountains in the distance and daffodils underfoot. The sounds of water falling, brooks babbling and birds singing create a natural symphony. Reaching out, I dip my fingers in cool water, pick up a smooth stone and pet a soft, sleek duck. Here I find the courage to share dreams and speak words aloud. Spicy smells from the kitchen lure me back and remind me that good is a gift—nourishment for the body and soul.
Now I am at the end of the week and my boat has reached shore. In moments of contemplation, the fog has lifted and clear wiring has reached the paper. At Anam Cara, I reach my destination, but the joy is truly in the journey.