Sunday, February 19, 2012

First in a Series: What's this Residency Really Like: Anam Cara

An Irish morning at the cheesemaker's shed
It occurs to me that I have visited residencies in Ireland, Spain, and across the United States and that perhaps someone else might be interested in what I've learned in 12+ years of my adventures. I'm beginning with a piece on Anam Cara in the southwest of Ireland, outside Cork. This residency deserves much more attention than it has had in the United States. In Ireland, writers know it well and I met several Irish writers who have been coming regularly since the retreat opened more than 10 years ago.


One of the coolest thing about staying at Anam Cara is that you become part of village life in a faraway corner of West Cork. A fisherman may bring a salmon just caught that morning for evening dinner or you may arrange for a visit with Mary -- the village oracle. Unlike any other residency I know, Anam Cara (soul friend in Irish) was born out of a vision of one woman.  Sue-Booth Forbes who has worked as an editor at Oxford University Press and originally hails from Utah, came to Ireland with the express purpose of creating a retreat for writers. In the 12+ years the residency has operated, Sue has helped dozens of writers -- supporting them with professional editorial advice and in a myriad of quiet ways behind the scenes. 

The residency houses only five residents at a time -- and the very reasonable fee includes all meals and amenities. There are over three acres to wander through and two gorgeous walks to the sea --- which is visible through four of the bedroom windows. If the weather cooperates you can swim in the river behind the house or in the sea. A wonderful article on the entire experience mentions that Anam Cara was listed as the #6 retreat destination (not just writing retreats) by the Irish Times.

In addition to staying at Anam Cara for a personal retreat, six week-long workshops are offered each year in poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and publishing. My experience at this retreat was so magical that I am returning this summer to teach a week long poetry course, Speaking Pictures: A Poetry Workshop Concerning Art. I met writers from Denmark, England, Ireland, and the US -- in half the cases, the writers were returning for their second or seventh visit. More than half a dozen writers have moved to the tiny village of Eyeries after first discovering the place through a stay at Anam Cara.

The house itself looks out over the Beara Sea as well as on an array of mountains and cow fields. There are three bars in town, one teashop (which is also a family's front room) and two shops. A good internet connection (throughout the residency) will keep you connected to the outside world --- otherwise you might have slipped into a time warp where cheese comes from the local cheesemaker and walking is the preferred means of transportation.

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