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With whiskey being the Muse of many writers from James Joyce to Mark Twain and Ian Fleming and with Donegal having its first distillery for more 200 years, retreat organisers collaborated with the Sliabh Liag Distillery to create a hearty ‘Magic Mystery Welcome,’ - the surprise event will be present on the future agenda, featuring different activities - with chief executive, James Doherty, mixing whiskey cocktails with the surprising flavors of rhubarb and orange. “We want to reclaim part of the lost heritage of Donegal, to replicate the uniqueness of whiskey-making, a skill that was an integral part of life here two centuries ago,” Doherty said, describing the subtle taste of his company’s ‘Silkie’ brand.

“I came to the ‘Ireland Writing Retreat’ hoping for a creative pick-me-up and curious about the Irish countryside. What I found was a feast for all of my senses. The beauty, kindness, creativity, camaraderie, focus and joy I have experienced this past week has been nourishing on every level and I leave (sadly) with a renewed love of creating, an intimacy in my own skin, and, of course, a little magic.”


Katie Gerwin, therapist.

Other retreat activities included nightly music concerts, a tour of Glenveagh National Park and Castle and a boat trip to Gola on ‘The Cricket’ alias ‘The Love Boat’ captained by Sabba Curran.

“I came to Ireland expecting inspiration and found magic. The conference bonded strangers into friends. We wrote, walked and wandered. Culture programs introduced us to local food, whiskey and dance. Guest authors and editors honed our craft. Loved it, will be back!”


Mary Holt, retired educator.

“I wanted to thank you so very much for a wonderful week in Donegal.  As a few have already reflected, it was a very special group of people in a magical part of the world. Thank you for sharing your wisdom, your stories, and your love of your Irish home. I appreciated every morning discussion and how it gave some perspective on my own writing as well as inspired me to come home and get to work on my manuscript. It was a nice range of topics – from the genesis of an idea from questions to setting and dialogue and the nitty-gritty of editing. I enjoyed meeting and learning from the speakers (as well as the other visiting artists, whiskey-distiller included). Everyone had wonderful stories to tell which gave a lot more texture to the craft of writing as well as the landscape of Ireland. I very much value the community you celebrate and, by consequence, help to create. When there seem to be so many stories of what divides us, it was heartwarming to be amongst fellow artists who share a love of the written word and a genuine interest in one another. It gives me so much hope to see people connect like that and make art.”


Jessie Olson, art museum administrator.

Bringing even more good cheer, retreat participants – many of whom had never been to Ireland before – also enjoyed traditional foods ranging from delicious home-baked breads and scones to carrageen moss and dulse in the traditional thatched cottage ‘Teac Mhuiris’ overlooking Bloody Foreland and the islands of Gola, Inismeain and Umfin. 

Lunch on Gola Island.

“The retreat showed a proper mix of instruction, experience, writing and critiquing. We visited fabulous places in Donegal then wrote fiction based on these special sites. The provided critiques were highly personalized and useful. In summary, the retreat was inspirational.”


Jeffrey Holt, retired pathologist.

“Surpassed my expectations, Sean and Columbia weaved a safe, intoxicatingly creative space for us to bond, write, listen and learn. The week’s highlight for me was a trip to Gola Island – so aptly used by R.L. Stevenson as a setting for ‘Treasure Island.’ The (writing retreat) experience has given me a ‘treasure chest’ to explore and cherish.”


Liz Gough, teacher and radio host.

Magical Moment on Gola Island - Poet and ​flute player, ​Kathleen Kinney, and writer​, ​therapist ​​and singer, Kate Gerwin​,​ entertain fellow ​participants​ on Gola Island with an original song written by Kathleen​ during​ th​is summer's​ Ireland Writing Retreat​ in Donegal.

“I’ve never before participated in a writing retreat. I wasn’t sure what to expect and, in fact, tried to not develop any expectations. Even if I had, I’m sure they would have been exceeded. Everyone was so nice and dedicated to their craft that I never felt nervous about sharing my work. Donegal is a truly magical setting and I fell in love, not only with the setting, but with my writing. The inspiration rekindled that spark I simply didn’t have time for previously. Without a doubt I would attend again.”


Sarah Stratton, forensic scientist.

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