Novelists, poets and short-story writers from all across America and Ireland have descended upon Gaoth Dobhair this week to highlight the region’s natural beauty and culture.
Part of the annual international ‘Ireland Writing Retreat’ held in the heartland of the Gaeltacht, the writers have travelled from US states as diverse as Wyoming, California, Wisconsin, Arizona, Michigan and Newfoundland as well as Belfast and will stay until Sunday.
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.
Guitarist-singer-songwriter Ian Smith entertained the writers with his own compositions, including ‘The Holy Hour’ about the history of whiskey, that will soon feature in a special international musical show touring Germany entitled ‘Whiskey, You're The Devil.'
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. Here, local people, Mairead Uí Dhugáin from An Crann Óg, the Bunbeg community centre led by Cathal Ó Gallchóir, her daughter Alanna, experienced seanchaí-historian Antoin MacAodha, Anna Ní Bhroin from Foras na Gaeilge and music teacher, Caitlín Joe Jack related the history of the cottage, taught basic Irish words and phrases including the meaning of place-names, as well as Irish dance steps in advance of a lively cèilidh at Teac Jack.
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.
The writers penned stories about excursions they experienced, which were critiqued by published authors and editors, including Anthony Quinn, multiple book author, forensic word editor, Mark Gregory and Sean Hillen, travel writer and author of suspense novel ‘Pretty Ugly,’ linking Donegal with the US.
Workshops focused on strengthening key writing skills such as character development, dialogue and importance of landscape. One, entitled ‘IQ for Creative Writers,’ highlighted the importance of questions (thus IQ meaning ‘I Question’) and the five journalism Ws – ‘who, what, why, where, when’ with the all-important sixth W, ‘what if,’ in the development of plot and character.
Please be advised: as has happened with the Summer session, the Autumn session may also fill up quickly, so please book early.
Due to the personal nature of the retreat, we can only accommodate a maximum of ten participants at each retreat.