Into the West: Ireland, September 13-27, 2024
September is the perfect time for a writing retreat, as the veil between worlds—new and old, material and spiritual, water and land—thins. Nowhere will these juxtapositions be more keenly felt than our Ireland Go and Write! retreat, from September 13-27, 2024.
“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper,” Irish poet William Butler Yeats once said. Experience the effect this magic has on your own writing: Join us for 12 nights and 13 days on the enchanted island of Inis Mór, followed by two nights in Doolin, the traditional music capital of Ireland.
Ireland will cast a spell on your mind, body, and soul as you wander the hills around Kilmurvey House. Meander down to the certified Blue Flag beach across the road, the nearby ancient cemetery. Gaze in awe upon the great stone walls built by farmers and workers years ago and hike towards the sky that meets the land at 3,000 year old Dún Aonghasa. Listen to the locals in the pub as they play the same traditional tunes that have been played for generations, in that very spot.
For nearly two weeks, this is your everyday life as you immerse yourself into the landscape and culture of this unique place—an island off an island at the edge of a continent—that occupies its own space, a world unto itself.
Breathe your deep breaths, throw your cares into the ocean that crashes upon the rocks, and understand where you are, how very old it is, and where you’ve come from.
This time around, our entire retreat takes place in the west of Ireland, beginning with the charming Kilmurvey House on the larges of the fabled Aran islands, Inis Mór (Inishmore), and ending with Doolin, considered the traditional music capital of Ireland. For two weeks (15 days and 14 nights), you’ll experience a mythical time out of time, a place outside of everyday space, with plenty of opportunities to write and immerse yourself on an island on the west coast of Ireland, which provided the backdrop for the the Oscar-nominated film, Banshees of Inisherin.
Join us on an unforgettable journey Into the West this autumn, from September 13-27, 2024.
Costs start at $5,495 CAD (approx. $4,065 USD). Details below. Contact us to register or if you have questions.
Writing as we go…
On a Go and Write! retreat, you’ll travel in the company of like-minded souls, some of whom have written only a little and others who have published extensively.
We bring our writing journals everywhere so we can capture these once-in-a-lifetime moments on the spot. You’ll want to invest in a journal of your own for this adventure, and plan to bring it wherever you go.
There will be many opportunities to sketch with words on this retreat in the far west of Ireland, and the immediacy encourages nuance and detail in your writing. There are some moments and characters that can only be captured vividly on the coach, warming yourself by a crackling hearth, or perched above the Atlantic Ocean.
Go and Write! retreat-goers, including non-writing folk, often have a tough time choosing their favourite part of our retreats, but the lasting friendships and memorable moments that could only happen when a bunch of writers go traveling together top most lists.
About Gerard and Janie
Go and Write! with Dr. Gerard Collins and Janie Simpson
Janie Simpson is an award-winning writer and the founding executive and artistic director of the Arts and Culture Centre of Sussex, where she worked until she began pursuing a full time writing career. Her stories have been published in Grain Magazine and Riddle Fence, and she recently received a Canada Council for the Arts creation grant to complete the first draft of her current project, a novel set on White Head Island, New Brunswick, where she spent much of her childhood. See Janie’s detailed bio here, or visit www.janesimpsonwriter.ca.
A note from a recent retreat participant
“It is not an exaggeration to say this retreat changed my life! I have been struggling for years to finish a personal memoir draft. Just a few days on our retreat, and my writing and I turned a corner. I had the breakthrough that had eluded me for years. The combination of Gerard’s insightful guidance, the support of the other writers who became instant soulmates, and the Irish tradition of storytelling in an 18th century castle proved to be life-changing.
“I am close to finishing my memoir draft, and I give all credit to Go and Write! for providing the environment that enabled me to write and organize my thoughts. I have opened myself up to the possibilities ahead, and I’m feeling better about my writing than I have in years.
“My deepest thanks to Gerard and Jane…”
~ Gloria R.B., Go and Write! alumnus
To see more kind notes from our Go and Write! Alumni, visit our About Us page.
The Land of Saints and Scholars
Ireland is many things—an island that has known strife and hardship of the most extreme kinds, a place without pretension where people are kind and generous, and it boasts castles, pubs, and ancient churchyards that date back millennia. Ireland is also a land of literary and musical genius perhaps unparalleled anywhere in the western world.
While the rest of Europe fell into the Dark Ages along with the collapse of the Roman Empire, Ireland’s isolation meant it could continue to prosper and evolve, leading to a Golden Age of education, literature, art, and culture, during which saints became legendary.
The remains of Early Christian monuments are scattered throughout the Aran Islands, and Inis Mór is popularly referred to as Ára na Naomh (Aran of the Saints). Irish monasticism spread from the Aran Islands throughout the rest of Ireland, Britain, and many parts of Europe. The ruins of these temples are dotted all over Inis Mór—you can learn more about them here.
In fact, one of these ancient historic sites is on the grounds of Kilmurvey House, right there in the backyard. Teampall Mac Duach (Church of St. Mac Duach) was built well over a thousand years ago, and we’re free to explore its nooks and crannies at our leisure.
For examples of the genius that permeates the Irish cultural landscape, think of miraculous giants like James Joyce, W.B. Yeats, Oscar Wilde, and Samuel Beckett. Then consider the greatness of Maeve Binchy, Emma Donoghue, Anne Enright, and Colm Toíbín. Onward to the musical angels and archangels Sinéad O’Connor, Christy Moore, Shane McGowan, and the Chieftains, and don’t ever forget Dolores O’Riordan. Then feast with your senses on the effortless perfection of Liam Neeson, Daniel Day Lewis, Colin Farrell, Saoirse Ronan, or Cillian Murphy, chewing up scenery in any film role they take on.
Some of the greatest art of the past century or so has come from this little island off the coast of continental Europe. The pubs we so often talk about aren’t just places of drink: they’re cultural crossroads where people from all walks of life meet for conversation and music, the craic, as they call it.
And in the corner near the turf fire, observing and listening, immersed in an alternate reality, a thoughtful figure scribbles lines that draw down wisdom from the saints and scholars, poets, and bards.
by Seamus Heaney
And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightning of a flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you’ll park and capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.
Our adventure begins
On the very first morning of our retreat, we’ll gather at the Shannon airport (contact us about timing before you book your flights) and travel by private coach to embark on a ferry to the enchanted island of Inis Mór, which will feel like a dream within a dream.
We’ll spend 12 nights on the island, with lots of room to spread out, roam, relax, and hear your own heartbeat. Inis Mór, the largest of the three Aran Islands, provides all the solitude and space you need to inspire your writing. If you’ve been here before, you already know that traveling to Inis Mór is like coming home to tranquility—a glimpse of life as it was long ago but in the here and now.
Only the locals are allowed to bring cars onto Inis Mór, but there are several pony traps that can take you all over the island. You can also rent a bicycle or travel by taxi.
When we visited Inis Mór in 2019, we were so struck by the island that we knew we had to build it into a future Go and Write! retreat. Sure enough, in October 2022, we returned with a group of writers for a full week that left our guests thoroughly enchanted by the island, its inhabitants, and the unique, unsullied landscape.
Ever since that first visit, we’ve felt the pull of Inis Mór, and we can’t wait to return in September and experience it with another group of writers.
For 12 nights and 13 days, we’ll have exclusive use of Kilmurvey House, a lovingly-restored, 18th century stone house that was once the family home of the “Ferocious O’Flahertys.” The Joyce family—a much less prickly lot—first opened the doors of this lovely home as a guest house in the mid-1900s. Now, almost 80 years on, the mantle has been passed to the third generation, with husband and wife Noel and Tessa continuing the tradition of care and kindness towards the guests of Kilmurvey House.
Unless you’ve visited Inis Mór before (and perhaps you have, in another lifetime), you’ve never experienced anything quite like it. And if you want to know what that feels like, please read this sumptuous Washington Post article about our bed and breakfast, Kilmurvey House, and the island. The piece is an older one and references the Joyce family, and the writing rings with the truth of all that’s good and mysterious about this part of the world.
Kilmurvey House, in the quiet village of Kilmurvey, sits at the base of the 3,000-year-old Dún Aonghasa fortress, just a one-kilometre trek up a slow-incline footpath.
Approaching Dún Aonghasa on Inis Mór, just up from Kilmurvey House
Any time of day, from dawn to dusk, our participants have special access to the fortress that overlooks the Atlantic, where the locals will tell you, with a twinkle in their eye, that, on a clear day, you can look straight across and see our East Coast of Canada.
Time to play
The emphasis for our extended time on Inis Mór is relaxation, focus, and inspiration for writing—a chance to recharge and find some peace in one of the most unspoiled Old World places you’ll ever be blessed to visit. We’ll host three group writing sessions, you’ll have a couple of one-on-one sessions with Gerard, and there’s a rustic café across the road from Kilmurvey House where you can get good grub and sit by the fire to write—the owners are friendly and down-to-earth. In fact, several meals at the café will be included as part of your registration for the retreat.
We’ll also try to arrange for at least one night of music with Janie and Gerard; Janie plays harp while Gerard plays guitar, and together they sing folk songs from Ireland, England, Canada, and the United States. Their aspirations are modest, as they offer their musical abilities for the entertainment of those who wish to partake. Between the poetry and the songs, it makes for an intimate evening that also happens to be a lot of fun and usually winds up in a singalong.
More to see and do on Inis Mór
Right next door to Kilmurvey House, there’s a homemade fudge shop where you’ll want to stock up on their wares to feed your creativity or visit as part of your daily ritual.
There’s also a gorgeous shop called An Túirne Aran Island Sweaters, owned by Rosemary Faherty and her husband Andrew. Rosemary’s family has lived on Inis Mór for eight generations, dating back to the late 1700s, and Rosemary comes from a long line of traditional master craftspeople who were versed in stone masonry and wall building, dressmaking, wool spinning and knitting, basket weaving, stone carving of Celtic crosses, and crios— pronounced kris—weaving (a crios is a multi-coloured woven woollen belt traditionally worn by the men of the Aran Islands). The art of knitting was passed down through the generations from her great grandmother, grandmother, mother, and finally to Rosemary.
In Irish language, the shop is called “An Tuirne,” meaning “The Spinning Wheel,” and Rosemary has her great grandmother’s spinning wheel displayed in the shop. It’s worth spending some time on Rosemary’s website to learn more about the history of Inis Mór.
In the town of Kilronan, where the ferry docks, there are cozy pubs that have live music and a few shops, including the original Aran Islands sweater company (there’s no lack of fibre art on Inis Mór!), and our amazing hosts at Kilmurvey will offer free shuttle service to the village.
The hiking and walking on Inis Mór is a spiritual experience, and early in our time there, we’ll also have a guided coach tour by local driver Noel, who will ensure we get a proper introduction to the island. If you think you might want to rent a bicycle, check out Aran Islands Bike Hire.
Make no mistake—Inis Mór is isolated as can be, and, as such, you’ll have an authentic feel for Ireland not just of the 21st century but of any time for the past three thousand years. It truly takes imagination, a sense of wonder, and an appreciation for the majesty of unchanging nature to fully experience Inis Mór. And that’s why we chose to return here for a writing retreat: because, more than anyone else, writers—or simply anyone with a poet’s heart—can appreciate this island for what it is.
The journey home, via Doolin, the traditional music capital of Ireland
After 13 days on Inis Mór, we’ll reluctantly bid goodbye and make our way to Doolin, where we’ll check into the Doolin Inn, voted 5th Top B&B in Ireland for 2023 in the “Independent.ie Reader Travel Awards.”
The inn is just minutes’ walk from pubs and restaurants, and, as we discovered during our most recent trip to the Cliffs of Moher, there’s actually a walking trail that allows you to hike from Doolin straight to the cliffs. Since we’ll be there in September, we’re guessing that many of you serious walkers will be interested in making that trek of approximately one and a half hours. And for those who prefer to save their energy, it’s only a 12-minute cab ride.
Doolin is known as the home of “trad” (traditional) music in Ireland, and we’ve arranged for an evening with local musician and storyteller Christy Barry. Christy and his partner, Sheila Quinn, host trad sessions in their home and have invited our group for a private evening of song and stories.
On our last full day in the west of Ireland, we will host a fare-thee-well lunch for the group at Gus O’Connors, a tavern that first opened its doors in 1832. For decades, Gus O’Connor’s Pub has been hosting legendary trad sessions open to all and featuring some of the best musicians from County Clare and Ireland. Gus O’Connor took over the pub from his father in the 1950s, and he and his wife, Doll, turned it into a gathering place where those playing traditional music were welcome to play—not so common at the time.
Music and folklore collectors and historians have been coming to Doolin to record traditional Irish music since as early as the 1920s, and in the 1940s and 50s, Gus O’Connors hosted several of these archival and radio recording sessions.
The afternoon trad session begins at 4:00, so some of us will stay right there at the pub to take in the music after our lunch, while others may wish to spend their last few hours in Ireland walking along the shore, visiting the great stalactite of Doolin Cave, or finding a quiet spot to do some last-minute journal writing. There’s music every night in Doolin, but this little village on the west coast of Ireland boasts some of the most gorgeous, sea-swept landscape in the entire country.
Later that evening, maybe you’ll offer a toast to the people of Ireland, for the life that has brought you to these shores, and to home, where you’ll return with a heart, mind, writing journal, and camera stuffed with memories. And the next morning, September 27, we’ll make our way back to the Shannon Airport by private coach and say more goodbyes along the way.
Join us as we head Into the West this autumn
This 15-day retreat is designed to satisfy both your desire for adventure and your need to find time to write, along with the thoughtful and respectful guidance of an award-winning author and mentor. Some of our travellers aren’t writers at all, though they often travel with writers. The vast majority, though, are writers of various genres, including novelists and playwrights, screenwriters, memoirists, and poets, and are at various stages of their writing life. We get as many new or emerging writers as we get established writers who simply need time away from the daily grind to refresh their souls and kickstart their writing.
A Go and Write! retreat is not your average trip to Ireland or even your average writing retreat. As writers ourselves, we have designed every aspect of this adventure with creative souls in mind, combining the stimulation that can only come from travel and company with other writers with the quiet and solitude that’s an absolute must for writing.
- 12 nights at Kilmurvey House on Inis Mór, with private bedroom/bathroom
- 2 nights at Doolin Inn, with private bedroom/bathroom
- Ferry to and from Inis Mór
- Private day tour of Inis Mór
- Daily shuttle between Kilmurvey House and the Village of Kilronan
- Full access to Dún Aonghasa fort
- All breakfasts included each morning, plus 4 suppers and 7 afternoon meals on Inis Mór and a group lunch in Doolin
- A private traditional music and storytelling session in the home of Christy Barry and Sheila Quinn in Doolin
- Private coach to and from Shannon airport
- Three group writing sessions
- Two one-on-one chats with Dr. Gerard Collins
- Professional, honest, and thoughtful commentary on your pre-submitted writing sample from an award-winning author and university educator—helpful regardless of your writing level
- The company of other writers
- Group readings and conversation on several evenings
- Non-writing participants are welcome to take part in as few or as many of the elements of the retreat as they wish
- Ample time and opportunity for writing, idea-gathering, and solitude
A major difference between Go and Write! and most travel companies or writing retreats is the personalized aspect of our tours. We ensure there’s both social time and alone time built into the itinerary, as well as plenty of time for wandering and gathering thoughts in a solitary fashion. We encourage writers to give each other space, although social time is also guaranteed, if that’s what you’d like. Note, also, that we don’t compel strangers to share a room as most writers prefer solitude or, at most, the company of a friend or family member of their own choosing.
In all, we pride ourselves on being open and inclusive and, being writers ourselves first and foremost, we imagine the best writing retreat possible and try our best to deliver on that ideal.
Kind words from one of our 2022 retreat participants:
“I am beginning to reflect on the joy the trip has brought me… The tenderness and care you showed us was so evident in the choices of lodging, the comfortable bus rides, and the knowledgeable guides. It was your day-to-day presence, while checking on all of us, that was especially meaningful. I am not certain I can explain the impact, but I feel it has awakened a longing in me and an understanding of something deeper that was not previously there.”
~ Ann K., Go and Write! alumnus
Double occupancy, per person, sharing room, including tax = $5,495 (approximately $4,065 USD)
Single occupancy: including tax = $6,295 (approximately $4,660 USD)
Please note that there is NOT a surcharge for single travellers. The true cost of the retreat is based on the single price, but if you bring someone else, you share the room costs, which lowers the price per person. We do not pair strangers on our retreats, and numbers will be limited to approximately 16 participants on this writing retreat to allow for a more intimate, connected, and focused experience.
A non-refundable deposit of $1,200 CAD per person is due when you reserve your space. Final payment is due May 10, 2024. This date may be extended for late registrants.
Listed price is in Canadian dollars and includes tax; gratuities are at participants’ discretion. We have estimated the price in US dollars for our American participants’ convenience, based on the rate of exchange at the time; the actual cost in American dollars will depend on the conversion rate at time of payment.
Note: Rates shown do not include credit card processing fees. For those paying by credit card, we will have to add 2.4% and the fee is non-refundable. For Canadians, we’re able to offer an e-transfer option to save you processing fees. For other registrants, we also accept international bank transfers; please research the processing fees charged by your bank as you’re responsible to pay those fees. Contact us for more information.
Some people choose to pay by credit card if it has an associated trip insurance policy. It is your responsibility to research and understand details around any insurance coverage associated with your credit card. Visit our Expectations, Rules, and Refunds page for more information about the importance of trip insurance.
Register by contacting us.
Check out our entire 2024 retreat lineup!
Additional locations we’re working on for 2025 and beyond:
A few additional notes
We are staying in a historic residence with no elevator; participants are required to climb stairs to get to their bedrooms. Rooms are assigned on a first-come, first served basis.
Please contact us about timing before you book your flights.
Travel cancellation, interruption, and health insurance is highly recommended. Participants are responsible to research the implications of travel restrictions at home and abroad before and at the time of travel. Ensure you have everything you need so you aren’t turned away from establishments or airports.
Your non-refundable portion of your deposit is 100% non-refundable. If you cancel up to 6 months before a retreat for any reason, any other payments you’ve made to us are returned to you, less the non-refundable deposit and payment processing fees. If you cancel from 4-6 months before a retreat, we will return 75% of any fees paid less your non-refundable deposit and payment processing fees. If you cancel within 4 months of the start of a retreat, any fees paid cannot be returned. If the retreat needs to be postponed, we will make every attempt to reschedule. We can only offer refunds if our providers also refund monies to us.
Due to contractual obligations with our suppliers, we cannot make exceptions to the cancellation policy, regardless of the reason.
All participants are required to review our Expectations, Rules and Refunds page and acknowledge agreement with the contents before registering for a Go and Write! retreat.