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Forward! Retreat! Part the First

July 5, 2016

I can’t believe it’s a year since I entered the Wild Atlantic Words poetry competition, organised by The Hungry Hill Writers.

To recap: I entered, I won second prize, and that prize was a week at the Creativity Cabin on the Beara peninsula. Last year, I blogged about the Wild Atlantic Words Festival. It’s about time I wrote about the prize.

Sometimes, we need a bit of affirmation to push us forward on the creative path; when that push comes, it’s wonderful.

When it comes in the shape of a week’s retreat, it’s invaluable.



The cabin is owned by Anne, Stephen, and young Adam. And when I was there it came with an animal pal brigade made up of Checkers (or Chequers), Tiger, and Mackerel.










©Karen McDonnell

When I arrived in the balmy ‘indian summer’ that was late September 2015, the family was away and the cats settled me in. It took a while to realise that Mackerel was blind – but with Tiger as his aide-de-chat he managed very well.

Tiger and Mackerel trying out their emotional blackmail skills ...

Tiger and Mackerel trying out their emotional blackmail skills …










Before leaving north Clare, I had tried to anticipate my every need. When I got to the Cabin I found Anne had done all the work for me. There are plenty of pots and pans and – essential for this coffee fiend – a cafetiere. Firewood is provided for the stove, and there is an honesty box to pay for briquettes if you need them. I was lucky – I only used the stove a couple of times, because the weather was good. Hats, a high viz jacket and torch are provided for walkers. The Creativity Cabin clan have tried to think of everything to make one feel at home – and have succeeded.

© Karen McDonnell

© Karen McDonnell

The space was cosy – I loved the little bedroom. It felt like a cross between a hippie bedroom in Wallander and the Little House on the Prairie! Plenty of storage in the main room and the bedroom, and a comfy sofa to throw yourself into. I brought my CD player, but didn’t need it – one there already. There are CDs and books on the shelves, just in case you want to travel light.

And the table sits there, underneath the window, facing the landscape, challenging you to do something.

©Karen McDonnell

©Karen McDonnell

You can self-cater, or Anne will do B&B, or the whole shebang. Outside, there’s a box bench where Anne will leave food if you don’t want to be disturbed. Privacy is respected, and there’s a lovely communication set-up involving bells hanging from the washing line, and coloured flags. When I was there an old wooden chair and table were in the garden. It was warm enough to sit outside and write. That’s water in the glass by the way. Ahem.

© Karen McDonnell

© Karen McDonnell

A little manual will tell you the dos and don’ts. Those puddy-tats aren’t allowed in the cabin because Anne wants the place to be ok for allergy sufferers.  As I said – they think of everything. The nearest villages are Adrigole and Eyeries. If you do self-cater, stock up in a supermarket on the way to Beara. There’s also a Supervalu in Castletownbere on Beara.  And – very important, this – don’t forget to bring some of your favourite treats. You’re going to be working a lot of the time, with a bit of luck. Be nice to yourself!

At first, I felt guilty if I started late, or took time off. But the weather was too glorious to ignore, and I was all the better for my meandering. I took off on the Beara Way for a picnic on 2 October, and got a poem out of it: ‘People This Little World’. I hope it will be the title of my first collection.

Although I was giving out to myself for not getting all of the ‘planned’ writing done, I came home with the genesis of five new poems, two of which were for the project at hand. And of course the remaining poems were in written to meet the deadline. ‘Obsignatores: A poetic sequence in response to the journey of Friar William of Rubruck to the court of the Great Khan Möngke,1253-1255  is to be published in an academic anthology in the U.S.

Picnicking in Ireland in October! Alert the Media!! © Karen McDonnell

Picnicking in Ireland in October! Alert the Media!!
© Karen McDonnell

I can’t recommend the Creativity Cabin highly enough. I had the space I needed, yet friendly faces – human or furry – were nearby. The whole of Beara is a drive away, as are the pubs and cafés. The Hungry Hill writers meet every week, and invited me to join them while I was there. It’s a good example of the kindness and welcome that awaits anyone who stays at the Creativity Cabin, or who goes to Castletownbere for the Wild Atlantic Words Festival.

I entered a competition; I got a push forward.

I went to a retreat; I found friends.

To find out more about this year’s Wild Atlantic Words competition, click here.

To book some creative time for yourself at the Creativity Cabin, click here.

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