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Forward! Retreat! – Part the Second

October 29, 2016

My first post about artists’ retreats and residencies was Forward! Retreat! – Part the First.  And here is the – um – Second.

Picture it. The end of April. A letter arrives from Clare County Council. ‘ Ref: Tyrone Guthrie Bursary 2016’. Being me, my eyes fall to the second paragraph: ‘While you were not…’

Ah.   Ah well.

But no! Read on, idiot!  It turned out that while I hadn’t won the overall bursary, I was being awarded a 1916 Commemoration bursary of a week at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre. Cue joy unconfined. (The nice thing was that the overall bursary had been awarded to another Ballyvaughan citizen – the musician Neil O’ Loghlen.) I immediately rang the Tyrone Guthrie Centre and bagged myself a cancellation in June. Perfect. The sooner, the better.

annaghmakerrig-kate-bowe-pr

Now, folks, I knew about the Centre. I had friends who had been there. I knew it was Guthrie’s ancestral home, left to the Irish nation to be used as an artists’ residence. I knew it was in Annaghmakerrig, in Co. Monaghan. I also thought of it as unobtainable at my stage of ‘writer-in-progress’.

Someone said, You’ll have fun trying to find it. I’d never driven to Co. Monaghan, but my sister-in-law grew up down the road from the place. So, route sorted. All my Facebook writer-buddies told me I’d love it. Really, it’s only having experienced Annaghmakerrig that I understand the depth of affection and gratitude it instills in the hearts of those who have spent time there.

Annaghmakerrig © K J McDonnell

Annaghmakerrig
© K J McDonnell

I found the turn in the road, remembered the key code for the gate, and slowly drove up and around to the front of the building.

The main door was open. Friendly residents greeted me as I got my bearings and went to the office. Ingrid and Mary had a consultation with a computer that was misbehaving. Ingrid said, I’ll show you up to your room now.

I bet they get a great kick out of showing Annaghmakerrig-virgins to their rooms.  Reader, I nearly cried.

Lady Guthrie's Room © K J McDonnell

Lady Guthrie’s Room
© K J McDonnell

And wouldn’t you … if you got a room like this!  By the way, this photo is only half of the room. To the right was a bathroom, a Narnia-sized wardrobe, a cosy armchair in front of the fireplace. And a chaise-longue for ….. longue-ing,ing,ing,ing.

Then, there was this –

© KJ McDonnell

© KJ McDonnell

And the view from that desk was ….

Annaghmakerrig lake from Lady Guthrie's room © KJ McDonnell

Annaghmakerrig lake from Lady Guthrie’s room
© KJ McDonnell

… this.  See the bookcase? I promised myself that on my last day I’d go through all the books, make a note of the titles, and in the winter I’d write a found poem from them.  I found a very interesting book in there. It belonged to Miss Worby. She, they say, is The Ghost. Miss Worby was Lady Guthrie’s companion and had a little room on the front landing between mine (ahem) and the room opposite. I popped my head into her room – a sweet room, I have to say – and had a quiet word with Miss Worby.  I’m not sure if I made things better or worse. Midway into my stay, I heard noises outside on the landing.

The kitchen, next morning, breakfast-time: ‘You were late to bed, last night’, I said to David –  a Catalan writer staying in the room across from me.

‘Oh, I thought that was you.’

Raised eyebrows, much laughter. Was it herself? Who knows?  BUT, I found one of Miss Worby’s books in her lady’s chamber. Perhaps she wanted it back on her bookshelves!

Miss Worby's book © KJ McDonnell

Miss Worby’s book
© KJ McDonnell

And did you write?, you might well ask.

I had a week to divvy up: One day to drive up, and settle in, and one day to have a lazy goodbye breakfast, pack and leave. Walks around the grounds, photographing trees and the boathouse. A few hours here and there for driving out into the countryside. (I was under orders from the sister-in-law to visit Rockcorry before I went home. I had to inform her, the plaque isn’t up on the birthplace wall yet.) Socialising. More of which anon. And, work.

I had a plan – work systematically through drafts in my notebook. One particular poem was giving me a lot of trouble. The great thing about being in the house was what I call the shame factor; I didn’t dare go down to the kitchen any later than 9.30am for breakfast. Mind you, I’d say neither staff nor residents would have given a toss what time I ambled down. Back at the desk, that first morning, staring out at the copper beeches, the lawn, the lake and sky … a new poem insisted on being drafted. And so, it began.  I made a list every evening of drafts to work on the next day. New ideas, images, phrases, interrupted my plans. I let them. ‘You’ll get so much done’, a poet had told me. When I got home, I realised there were 17 new or re-drafted pieces for me to keep working on during the summer. Sometimes, I surprise myself in a good way.

As a routine emerged, there was time for coffee breaks, and the fun of meeting up in the kitchen at lunchtime – swapping stories and encouragement. There was time for checking in on social media, and for sitting in the armchair placed between the shelves that form the poetry library. Reader heaven, that nook.

The poetry library, Annaghmakerrig. © KJ McDonnell

The poetry library, Annaghmakerrig.
© KJ McDonnell

Annaghmakerrig. The word should be a mantra.

It’s a beautiful place. But it wouldn’t stay that way without the people who run it, care for it, and come to stay in it. Guthrie stated in his will that all residents in the house must meet at 7pm every evening for dinner. Some of the outbuildings are now converted to self-catering cottages – even so, those residents must come up to the main house for dinner once a week.  The food is to die for;  the hospitality of the staff, beyond compare. Artists, composers, writers of all kinds and of various nationalities enjoyed noisy meals – serving, chatting, helping in the clearing up afterwards.  On Midsummer’s Eve the writers read work in progress in the drawing room – then up to the composer’s studio where Laura played some of her work for us. Kiki – an artist – produced bottles of fizz to toast Midsummer. Later in the week, we cosied-up in the drawing room: chatting, listening to music and – a find this – an old recording of Guthrie’s voice … a talk recorded for the BBC.

Drawing Room, Annaghmakerrig. © KJ McDonnell

Drawing Room, Annaghmakerrig.
© KJ McDonnell

 

There is a bust of Tyrone Guthrie in the hall. Every morning – as I made my way to the kitchen for that day’s breakfast larks – I touched him on the head and said, Thank you, you dear man.

Tyrone Guthrie from a family album on the Tyrone Guthrie website

Tyrone Guthrie
from a family album on the Tyrone Guthrie Centre’s website

It’s impossible to truly reveal Annaghmakerrig in a blog post because, I suspect, its importance is unique to every person who stays there. Annaghmakerrig makes us reveal ourselves: to the page, to the instrument, to the blank canvas, to the landscape, to the house too, and – whisper it – to ourselves.

The boat house, Annaghmakerrig. © KJ McDonnell

The boat house, Annaghmakerrig.
© KJ McDonnell

 

from Jimmy Webb Plays Annaghmakerrig at Midsummer

Envy the boat house
its squat solidity,
its weathered self-knowledge,
its place in the scheme of things.

© Karen J McDonnell

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2 Comments
  1. It’s just up the road from me. I’ve often wondered about staying there. Looks so beautiful.

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  1. @MissWarby – I’m on my way! – Karen J McDonnell

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