"Write in Ireland" finds a home
Oct 16, 2007
|Eureka! Translation: I have found it! Tucked in a beautiful valley above the lovely town of Kenmare is Anam Cre, a combination pottery studio and guest house. It is perfect for my planned writers' retreat. Even the name fits. Anam Cre is Irish for "soul clay," which owner and potter Anne O'Shea chose because it means "beginning," as in all things begin as clay, to be shaped into their final form.
Every writer knows what it feels like to sit down with their "lump of clay" and work to transform it into something beautiful and lasting.
I hadn't been able to make contact with Anne either by phone or email when I arrived in Kenmare, but since I had a vague idea where the house was located Monday morning I drove off in that direction. I was relieved to find there were signs leading to Anne's pottery studio, and the house. The one-lane road to the house winds up a hillside, giving expansive views over the valley and hills beyond.
The house is tucked into the hillside, with a rock wall curved around the pottery studio portion of the building. I wandered around the grounds for a few minutes, admiring the views and looking in the windows (trying not to leave nose prints), and was standing on the deck off the kitchen when Anne came bubbling in the front door.
"You must be Marcie!" she greeted me, even though we had not yet arranged to meet. She was a like a pixie, with wild, dark curls pulled back with a scarf, and a bouncy step that belied her 50-plus years. She took me on a whirlwind tour of the house and pottery studio then suggested we walk up to the top of the hill to see the view of Kenmare Harbor. She and her husband own over a hundred acres and guests are welcome to walk it freely.
Fortunately I had my walking shoes on, and away we went. It was so warm that I soon shed my wool jacket and left it on a stone wall. There was not an established route to the top, but there were plenty of sheep trails to follow. The long distance views were so incredible it was easy to want to stop frequently to take them in - and catch my breath. Anne said she climbed this hill every day for her exercise, while I have been sitting in a car for two weeks. She kindly allowed me to set the pace. Plus I had to stop often to take photos.
We passed an old stone cottage, tumbled down to just low stone walls and end gables, and climbed over several stockwire fences. We picked our way around sedge hummocks, over flat stones and through fern patches.
As we neared a saddle between two peaks the ground became boggier and my boots got wetter and wetter. Oh well, the hostel had an excellent heating system on which to dry them later.
From the saddle the view was indeed spectacular. Sorry if I'm overusing that word, but it just fits so well. The scene stretched from the harbor below across to the Iveragh Peninsula (aka Ring of Kerry) with its MacGillicuddy Reeks mountain range, and north to the hills near Cork, where giant energy-generating windmills churned in the breeze. The morning rain had served to cleanse the sky, leaving behind cotton candy clouds whose shadows rippled over the rocky hills.
The geography of Ireland is so rocky that there is not enough soil for trees to take root at higher elevations. Where it's not rocky it's boggy. The skin of the mountains is exposed, showing every muscle and bone beneath the taut, undulating surface. It's easy to see how the ancient people could imagine the hills to be sleeping giants or dragons.
Between the easy graciousness of the house, the charm of its owner and the grandeur of the setting, I knew I was sold on the place before we set off on the hillwalk, but I didn't want to appear too eager. There was still some negotiating to do. As it turned out, Anne drove an easy bargain, one that I couldn't pass up. Over cups of tea served in mugs she made in her studio, we agreed on a price for booking the house for two weeks in May, from the 3rd through the 17th. That will enable me to run two retreats back to back, with 12 people in each. I am hoping the weather is cooperative at that time of year, but even if it rains every day, I think it will be a magical experience.
The photo above was taken on the hillside above the house, just a glimpse of the stunning views to be had all around Anam Cre.