With life increasingly fast-paced and technology an ever present distraction, finding a quiet space to work on a creative project, or to gather your thoughts for one, can be tough. As Virginia Woolf once said, ‘A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.’ (Men too, of course.)
However, if your home life allows little time for reflection and that next big project just isn’t getting off the ground, then an artistic retreat might be just what you need. In the ROI, there are myriad writers’ and artists’ retreats available - dedicated locations where one can take time out to work in quiet and seclusion.
While there are creative workshops and festivals aplenty in Northern Ireland, however, the nearest ‘retreat’ seems to be the Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig – a short hop over the border in Co. Monaghan. Dedicated solely to nourishing writers and artists, the Tyrone Guthrie Centre attracts people from around the world, though recent feedback suggests that fewer Northern Irish writers are using it than their ROI counterparts. Indeed, while bursaries are available for the centre, it seems that not everyone has access to these.
Of course, there are plenty of places in the North where you can book yourself in for some ‘time out’ if you just want to get away. Below, however, are some locations proving popular with creative professionals who seek a more quiet space away from the crowd…
Tyrone Guthrie Centre, Annaghmakerrig, Co. Monaghan
Founded by theatre maker William Tyrone Guthrie, the Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig is a residential retreat used by artists the world over. With room for 11 guests at any one time, the centre also has accommodation for six additional residents in the recently refurbished Farmyard Cottages. There are also eight studio spaces, a performance/dance space and a print studio.
To stay at the centre, artists of any discipline can apply throughout the year, with bursaries available from various sources, including some councils. Once accepted, you can then stay in the main house for up to one month, or stay for up to two months in the self-catering Farmyard Cottages.
Kinramer Cottage, Rathlin Island, Co. Antrim
Frequented by writers and artists who want a quiet space to work, Kinramer Cottage on Rathlin Island is a remote location ideal for developing any creative project. An old farmhouse which remains part of a working organic hill farm, the cottage can be shared by groups or enjoyed individually throughout the year.
What could be more inspirational than working on an island with a backdrop of beautiful scenery and lots of fresh sea air? There’s also a studio in the garden - Creel House – which provides an additional private space; particularly useful if you’re staying with a group. Although available for anyone to enjoy, Kinramer has proven popular with local artists and just might be the place you need to get stuck into that next big project.
Limepark Art Centre and Cottages, Armoy, Co. Antrim
If island life doesn’t appeal, then another option on the north coast is Limepark Art Centre and Cottages in Armoy, which has six luxury cottages often used by artists for a working holiday. With names including Little Pigs’ House, Ned’s Loft, Blacksmiths, Long Barn, Poets’ Corner and Dark Horse House, these five-star self-catering cottages also have the Wilde art gallery and studios nearby.
Dundrum Imaginarium, Co. Down
Although the last creative retreat from Dundrum Imaginarium in the Mourne Mountains took place in 2015, there are said to be further weekend retreats in the pipeline. Previously, Rachel Kennedy – arts officer at Down Arts Centre - and poet Olive Broderick were involved, while other creative professionals provided relaxation and meditation sessions, along with personal development sessions, a ceramic workshop and yoga.
Ballyeamon Barn Tourist Hostel, Co. Antrim
A hidden gem on the north coast, Ballyeamon Barn is more than just a hostel, as it has become a place of refuge for both travelling and local artists working in all genres. Whether you’re a writer, musician, painter, poet or crafter, you can relax and enjoy the space at Ballyeamon Barn by yourself or with others.
Run by Liz Weir, the Barn is just five miles from Cushendall and is surrounded by scenic countryside, including the Glenariff Forest Park, which has waterfalls and lots of woodland trails to explore. The popular ‘session house’ at the Barn also delivers regular storytelling and music evenings, while there are frequent workshops on storytelling, creative writing, music, dance, and traditional crafts.
Downhill Beach House and Hostel, Mussenden Road, Castlerock, Co. Derry~Londonderry
Further along the north coast, at Downhill Beach House and Hostel, writers can enjoy a retreat at the Beach House for a reduced price in the winter. The ‘Space to Write – Winter Writers Weeks’ take place in off-peak seasons, generally running from the end of January until the beginning of February and have proven popular in the past couple of years.
With a minimum booking of three nights, writers can take the time they need to work on their projects in this self-catering space, which also offers the opportunity to mingle with fellow artists. There’s also usually a prize draw to win a three-night bursary, so if you like being by the sea and writing by an open fire on a cold winter’s day, then this might just be what you need.
Painting in Moy, Co. Tyrone
If you want to perfect your painting or would like to learn how to paint, then you can enjoy a four-day acrylic painting course in Moy with TV artist Dermot Cavanagh. A tutor on the BBC series Awash with Colour, Cavanagh has been running these creative courses in Moy, Dungannon for the past few years, with the next from December 12-15.
Three-day watercolour courses in April, May and June, are also available, with upcoming courses taking place in September, October, November and December 2017. All materials are provided and all abilities welcomed. Though non-residential, accommodation can be arranged upon request.