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International Participants Enjoy Latest Creative Writing Retreat In Ireland

Germany, the US, England and Ireland - an array of participants from different countries attended varied writing workshops in our latest retreat last week in topics ranging from mastering dialogue to developing story arc while also experiencing the rich cultural world of northwest Ireland.

Excursions participants were taken on included the 19th century thatched-roof cottage of famed writer-cum-adventurer, Micí Mac Gabhann, who penned the memoir ‘Rotha Mór an tSaoil’ (The Big Wheel of Life) after searching for gold in the Klondike. Here they enjoyed a traditional lunch, including freshly-baked scones, and were entertained by a talented island-born musician who played lively tunes on his box accordion.

The Workhouse Museum in the coastal village of Dunfanaghy which focuses on the Famine in mid-19th century Ireland and is located on the rugged ‘Wild Atlantic Way’ and the 15th century Doe Castle were also interesting historical sites participants visited.

Our philosophy at Ireland Writing Retreat could be described as a ‘cultural immersion process,’ a fusion of stimulating excursions and practical workshops aimed at inspiring the Muse,” explained Columbia Hillen, organiser of the retreat, now in its eight successful year. “As our retreat is held in a specially-designated Irish-speaking Gaeltacht region, participants also learned basic phrases in the Irish language and enjoyed traditional dancing classes.”

Creative writing workshops took place every day in Teac Jack, a boutique hotel overlooking the Atlantic Ocean led by published authors, with stories by participants critiqued in class. The tutors were Belfast-born Sean Hillen, author and former foreign correspondent for ‘The Irish Times’ and ‘The Times’ of London, who also worked at the United Nations Media Center. Sean’s novel ‘Pretty Ugly’ is set in the US and west Donegal. His memoir is entitled, ‘Digging for Dracula’ and is based on his experiences living in eastern Europe for many years.

Bradley Harper, a former Colonel in the US Army and award-winning author of novels including ‘A Knife In The Fog’ and ‘Queen’s Gambit,’ also hosted workshops. Brad worked in the Pentagon and in several different countries in Europe and South America and is also a screen writer.

According to participants’ comments immediately after the retreat ended this past weekend, the retreat lived up to their expectations, perhaps even surpassed them.


Kathleen Shine Cain, Professor Emerita at Merrimack College near Boston, Massachusetts, said, “We immersed ourselves in our own writing, in the writing of our fellow participants (who soon became friends); in the welcoming, supportive atmosphere created by Sean and Columbia; in the wild beauty of Donegal. Old and young, experienced writers and novices, we became a passionate community of writers during the week—and we plan to continue sharing our work with one another. I say to anyone planning to attend an Ireland Writing Retreat: Prepare to be amazed.

In her four ‘I Remembers,’ Gerda-Marie Adenau who lives in Munich and is a communication manager at Siemens, said, “I remember receiving close guidance in various stages of my creative process, from generating ideas, drafting a plan, first drafts, revision, and editing, with constant supporting feedback throughout the week; learning about techniques to help me widen my imagination and senses and strengthen my observation skills; the soft feeling of a light pressure when applying these techniques in assignments; feeling safe in a trusting, supportive environment.

Theresa McKay from Antrim in Northern Ireland, said, "Thank you for a fantastic week. I learned so much from you and the brilliant people who were part of the group. I will always remember this time in Donegal."


Vicky Siska from Fort Collins, Colorado said, "Ireland Writing Retreat is like no other: a lively blend of generative writing and cultural exploration. Out of the classroom field trips carefully planned by Columbia allow participants, especially those new to the Donegal area, to gain insight into the past and present of this delightful county, while during times at the writing table, Sean generously shares practical insight garnered from his varied and long career in journalism. This week amongst people who will soon become friends is not to be missed!"


Many thanks to our local partners: Gearoid McFadden and his staff at Teac Jack , Eileen and Frank Sweeney, Sile Ui Fhearraigh, manager of Ionad a’Phobail, Machaire Rabhartaigh in Gortahork, Kathleen Gallagher of Ciocras, Bernard Toland, James and John McGinley, Harry Coll from Boffin Ferry, The Workhouse, Arnolds restaurant and Coll's restaurant.


Join us in Paris in October and follow in the footsteps of such legends as James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sylvia Beach, Gertrude Stein, George Orwell, Oscar Wilde, even Dan Brown across the boulevards of Paris while learning the art of creative writing through practical workshops and author meetings.

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