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Chocolates, Irish Music, A Castle And A Thatched Cottage Make Donegal Retreat A Memorable One

An exclusive traditional Irish music performance under the rafters of a century-old thatched cottage by the sea, an evening of chocolate-tasting in the company of the artisan maker himself, a ferry-boat ride to an intriguing island and a visit to a lough-side castle and its colorful botanic garden.

Such were just some of the experiences enjoyed by participants from England, Ireland and the US at last week’s ‘Ireland Writing Retreat’ on the ‘Wild Atlantic Way’ in picturesque Donegal on the rugged northwestern coast.

With participants having such diverse backgrounds as high school and college teaching, law, finance and banking, psychology, entrepreneurship, interfaith ministry and diversity specialist in the corporate world, and ranging in age from 17 to 86, there were many interesting world views and life experiences to share.

As in all our retreats, our week together was a combination of travel excursions and cultural activities with writing workshops on specific techniques, as well as practical critiques of participants’ new and ongoing work.

The workshops in such subjects as story development, flash fiction, memoir and personal essay writing were led by two tutors, Irish editor-turned-author Sean Hillen and Kathleen Shine Cain, Ph.D, author, writing programme director and professor Emerita at Merrimack College in Massachusetts.

Our week together kicked-off with a buffet-and-wine evening and a special presentation by Axel Pawlik, known simply as ‘The Chocolate Man From Donegal,’ who created a selection of his own locally inspired bonbons comprising seaweed, mead, whiskey, rosemary and Schizandra especially for the writers.

Memorable experiences such as a lively cèilidh (a traditional Irish dance) at Teac Jack; dinner with music at Leo’s Tavern, a cosy restaurant-cum-pub that is home to singer Enya and her family group, Clannad, and a bus excursion to Glenveagh National Park all provided writers’ with inspiration for travel articles, memoirs and fiction stories highlighting the region’s natural beauty and historical intrigue.

A ferry-boat ride to Gola Island with Captain Sabba was followed by a talk by the island’s uncrowned King Eddie about his childhood days growing up there and the tale of the gun-smuggling boat, the Asgard in 1914, manned by two local fishermen.

Multi-instrumentalist-singer-songwriter Noel Lenaghan provided masterly entertainment and repartee over a tasty lunch under the rafters of the 100-year-old thatched home of author and adventurer Micí Mac Gabhann.

We’d like to take this opportunity to thank all the participants - in the US from states such as Connecticut, New Jersey, Maine, California and New Mexico; in England, from Berkshire; and Ireland, from Ennis, county Clare - for their wonderful enthusiasm and support of each other’s writing efforts.

Roll on September when we look forward to our next writing retreat in scenic Donegal and in October when we host what should be a marvellous week in the alluring, romantic city of Paris.

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