Ireland 2022

Inis Mór’s Dún Aonghasa, the Dun Aengus fort on Inishmore. Credit: heritageireland.ie

From Hearth to Hearth: Ireland, September 29 – October 17, 2022

October is the perfect time for a writing retreat, as the veil between worlds – new and old, material and the spiritual, water and land, castle and cottage – thins. Nowhere will these juxtapositions be more keenly felt than our Ireland 2022 Go and Write! retreat, from September 29 to October 17.

Our adventure will take you from the fairytale luxury of Clontarf Castle to the homespun charm of Kilmurvey House on the fabled island of Inis Mór (Inishmore). For eighteen days and nights, you’ll experience the best of all worlds: a time out of time, a place outside of everyday space, with plenty of time to write and immerse yourself in Ireland’s finest offerings.

This eighteen-day trip to Ireland is the ultimate Go and Write! experience; essentially, it’s multiple writing retreats rolled into one. You’ll spend one week at a castle in Dublin, three nights in culture-stuffed Galway, and cap things off with another week on one of the magical Aran Islands off the Irish west coast. 

You’ll travel in the company of like-minded souls, some of whom have written only a little and others who have published extensively. Go and Write! travellers, 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.

Dublin

Clontarf Castle – the comforts of a 4-star luxury hotel, carrying traditions of excellence and hospitality dating back to 1172.

We begin with a seven-night stay at the luxurious Clontarf Castle Hotel just minutes outside of Dublin, Ireland’s storied capital city. We stayed in this castle for our very first overseas retreat in 2017 and the entire experience was fantastic, from the thoughtful staff to the impeccable rooms to the delicious Irish breakfast each morning. Since then, we have been yearning to return for a longer visit, and can’t wait to get back to the Clontarf. As Gerard said on that first adventure, “Yes, you can write anywhere, but you can also write in a castle in Ireland.”

The Clontarf’s long history goes back to 1172 A.D. when King Henry II of England granted the entire lands of the Clontarf region to the Norman knight, Hugh De Lacy. Construction on the castle seems to have started a few years later with the purpose of defending Dublin against the Gaelic tribes. In 1179, the castle had passed into the hands of the Knights Templar. Since then, and to this day, the castle has dominated the political, cultural, and socio-economic life of the Clontarf area. Clontarf Castle, in recent times, has been partially modernized with homage to its ancient origins and history, but with attention to the comfort of its guests.

Morning meeting in The Castle Dungeon with one of our Go and Write! alumnus. These one-on-one meetings are one of the most popular parts of our writing retreats.

We will gather as a group and enjoy a delicious supper at the castle on our first evening, and the next morning, we’ll have a writing workshop. Gerard will begin to meet with individual writers in The Dungeon to discuss their projects and goals.

While we’re at Clontarf Castle for an entire week, you can discover every nook of the ancient castle, sit before the fire, dine in the Knight’s Bar, or find a secret writing space as the golden-green landscape shifts to cozy, dark evenings ripe for storytelling and song.

In an area best known for the Battle of Clontarf and for being the childhood haunt of Dracula author Bram Stoker, the luxurious Clontarf Castle rises up from the Dublin landscape only two miles from the city’s centre. In the daytime, after an incredible Irish breakfast, you can explore Dublin’s many spectacular literary, historical, and cultural sites, and dine at ancient pubs, coffee shops, and restaurants. As nighttime descends, you can continue at the lively pubs or spend your evenings back at the castle, writing, eating, and socializing. While we provide opportunities for you to experience much of what a writing retreat in Ireland offers, you are free to come and go as you please.

A true highlight of our time in Dublin will be our private concert with the internationally-acclaimed Niamh Parsons, one of Ireland’s most beloved traditional folk singers.

Niamh Parsons at the Irish Sea Sessions

Janie & Gerard with Niamh Parsons, 2019

After we had the unforgettable pleasure of hearing Niamh’s gorgeous voice in person a couple of years ago, we struck up a friendship and eventually asked if we could hire her to put on a private show for us one evening at Clontarf Castle. Much to our everlasting delight and appreciation, she said, “Yes!”

While Niamh Parsons alone is worth a trip across the ocean, this intimate event requires no commute for our Go and Write! travellers, as we’ll have her traditional songs and stories all to ourselves for that special evening. Niamh has performed at nearly every prestigious international folk festival on either side of the Atlantic, for crowds of thousands, and we are so thankful that she has agreed to perform for our group.

Newgrange. Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/youngshanahan/

Beyond the Clontarf Castle walls, Dublin offers endless places to see and things to do.

Carved entrance stone at Newgrange, one of the most famous stones in the entire repertory of megalithic art.

One morning during our stay, a coach will pick up our group for a visit to Newgrange, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that’s older than Stonehenge and the Pyramids of Giza. Newgrange, the jewel in the crown of Ireland’s Ancient East, is a mysterious, ancient passage tomb in County Meath across from the River Boyne. On the way, our guide will share the history of the region and take us to visit the mythical Hill of Tara, the traditional seat of Ireland’s High Kings.

We also encourage you to take a tour of the historic Dublin Castle, the National Museum of Dublin where “the Bog People” rest, and venerable Trinity College, which houses one of Ireland’s finest national treasures, the Book of Kells, an ancient masterwork of calligraphy and illumination.

There’s also the Dublin Writers’ Museum, and even more impressive, the new Museum of Literature Ireland (MoLI), where you can take a tour and perhaps luck into a reading. Check out this article about the museum, and be sure to click on the image of the camera on the first photo of James Joyce to cycle through the series of photos. Literature comes to life at MoLI in a series of immersive exhibitions that pay homage to Ireland’s finest writers, from James Joyce to Colm Tóibín, including a special focus on Ireland’s women writers, such as Edna O’Brien and Anne Enright.

Writing by the peat fire at The Brazen Head Pub

From the Museum of Literature Ireland, you can cross over to fabled St. Stephen’s Green, which Joyce wrote about so hauntingly, and find many a shop or restaurant, or perhaps an old pub at which to grab a pint and write. Many of those same pubs serve up live music, including renowned sessions at Ireland’s oldest pub, The Brazen Head, built in 1198, O’Donoghue’s , The Cobblestone, and numerous others.

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, 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, in the pub, or warming yourself by the crackling hearth in the castle.

Galway

The pretty row houses of Cong.

On our eighth morning in Ireland, we’ll be whisked away by private coach to Galway and, along the way, we’ll spend time at the gorgeous riverside village of Cong , most recognizable as the setting for the John Wayne movie The Quiet Man. To Go and Write! alumni, Cong is best known as that beautiful little spot with the very old houses and Ashford Castle. The village, among other claims to fame, has ties to Oscar Wilde, some great pubs, and a fantastic Aran Island Knitwear shop.

In the late afternoon, we’ll land at our home for the next three days, The Skeffington Arms hotel, located at Eyre Square in the heart of downtown Galway, a lively hub of Irish culture. Galway has maintained its small-city feel with myriad shops and some of the finest old pubs in all of Ireland, where you can sit, write, or socialize with friends as you watch the world go by.

Poulnabrone dolmen is a large portal tomb located in the Burren, County Clare, Ireland. Situated on one of the most desolate and highest points of the region, it comprises three standing portal stones supporting a heavy horizontal capstone, and dates to the Neolithic period, between 4200 BC and 2900 BC. Image credit: theplanetd.com.

On our second day in Galway, we’ll journey to the majestic Cliffs of Moher, with a stop at the fairy trees and portal tomb of Poulnabrone, the otherworldly landscape of the Burren, and visit the Brigid’s Well outside of Galway, which, reportedly, was blessed by St. Brigid herself.

Galway will provide a thrilling few days, so you’ll want to pace yourself and seek out places to do some writing. Within a short walk from The Skeffington, you’ll find scores of pubs and coffee shops for just that purpose. We’ll point out some of them – including The King’s Head (built in the 13th century), An Púcán, and one we’ve dubbed “The Harry Potter pub” – once we get there, and you can always go wandering. But you won’t have to wander far since the Skeffington Arms has its own pub with live music regularly.

Inis Mór (Inishmore), the largest of the Aran Islands

Dún Aonghasa on Inis Mór

Just when you might need a rest, we’ll bid adieu to Galway and take the ferry to the enchanted island of Inis Mór, which will feel like a dream within a dream. We’ll spend seven nights there with lots of room to spread out, roam around, relax, and hear your own heartbeat. Inis Mór, the largest of the three Aran Islands, will provide you with all the solitude and space you’ll need to inspire your writing. After the grandeur and luxury of Clontarf Castle, the vibrancy of Dublin and Galway, Inis Mór is like coming home to tranquility – a glimpse of life as it was long ago, but in the here and now.

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. Unless you’ve visited the island before (and maybe you have in another lifetime), you’ve never experienced anything like Inis Mór. 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 rings with the truth of all that’s good and mysterious about this part of the world.

Kilmurvey House, Inis Mór.

For seven nights, we’ll have exclusive use of Kilmurvey House, which sits at the base of the 3,000-year-old Dún Aonghasa fortress, just a one-kilometre trek up a slow-incline footpath. 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 the East Coast of Canada. (They say, “Nova Scotia”; we gently respond, “Newfoundland”.)

Video above: Approaching Dún Aonghasa on Inis Mór, just up from our bed and breakfast. From our December 2019 adventure.

The emphasis for our week on Inis Mór is relaxation 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 another writing workshop, you’ll have more one-on-one time with Gerard, and there’s a rustic café across the road from Kilmurvey House where you can buy good grub and sit by the fire to write – the owners are friendly and down-to-earth.

Teach Nan Phaidi, the charming café across the road from our bed and breakfast.

Right next door, 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. 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. While the hiking and walking on Inis Mór is a spiritual experience, there are other ways to get around, such as by taxi or even by horse-drawn carriage. 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 wish 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 twenty-first 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.

Trekking towards Dún Aonghasa fort. From our December 2019 trip.

The Journey Home

After seven nights on old Inis Mór, we’ll reluctantly bid goodbye and make our way back to Dublin. Along the way, we’ll embark on a soul-stirring cruise of Loch Gill , the body of water that held the heart of Ireland’s most famous poet, William Butler Yeats, whose poem, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” was born there:

Then our coach will take us back for one final night in dear old Dublin at Buswells Hotel, another beautiful inn at the heart of the downtown. You’ll have one more chance to have dinner at a restaurant of your choice and to finish the evening at any pub your heart desires. 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 be returning the next day with a heart, mind, writing journal, and camera, stuffed with memories.

Pub at Kilronan village, isle of Inis Mór. From our 2019 visit.

This 18-day retreat is designed to satisfy both your desire for adventure and your need to find time to write with as much – or as little – guidance or prompting as you want. 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 or kickstart their writing.

About your hosts

Gerard and Janie on our Go and Write! Ireland 2017 adventure. Photo credit: Amy Cameron

Both Gerard and Janie are writers and partners not only in Go and Write! but also in life. Gerard, who has has PhD in American Gothic Literature, is the author of The Hush Sisters (2020), which recently won the Indie Book Award international prize for a suspense novel, and his novel Finton Moon was nominated for an IMPAC Dublin Award. Gerard has taught creative writing workshops at the invitation of Newcastle University in the UK, at Lily Dale Assembly in New York and, closer to home, he was recently invited by the Frye Festival to teach a Masterclass in creative writing. He teaches English Literature, by distance, at Memorial University of Newfoundland.

Janie’s writing has won awards in poetry and short fiction, and has been published in Riddle Fence and Grain Literary Magazine; she is the Executive and Artistic Director of an arts and culture centre and handles many of the administrative, coordinating and marketing duties of Go and Write!, while Gerard facilitates the workshops, writing commentary, and one-on-one consultations with every writer.

This is not your average trip to Ireland or even your average writing retreat. As writers ourselves, we have designed every aspect of this Go and Write! 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.

Here’s where you can learn more about your hosts, Gerard and Janie.


Summary of the retreat:

Go!

  • 7 nights at Clontarf Castle in Dublin (breakfast included each day, 1 supper)
  • 3 Nights at Skeffington Arms in Galway
  • 7 nights at Kilmurvey House on Inis Mór (breakfast included each day, 5 suppers, 5 lunches)
  • 1 night at Buswell’s Hotel in Dublin
  • Private concert by acclaimed Irish traditional singer Niamh Parsons at Clontarf Castle
  • Day trip to Newgrange, Hill of Tara
  • Visit to village of Cong
  • Cruise on Loch Gill (famous for Yeats’ poem “Lake Isle of Inisfree”)
  • Day trip to Cliffs of Moher, Poulnabrone Dolmen, and The Burren
  • Ferry to Inis Mór
  • Full access to Dún Aonghasa
  • Luxurious 49-seat coach service from award-winning, family owned and operated Donoghues of Galway

Write!

  • Multiple writing workshops
  • Two one-on-one meetings with Dr. Gerard Collins, writer-in-residence
  • 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
  • Access to writer-in-residence throughout the 18-day retreat
  • The company of other writers
  • Group readings
  • Ample time and opportunity for writing, idea-gathering, and solitude

COST

Double: $4,795 CAD per person, including tax.

Single: $6,595 CAD per person, including tax.

Airfare is not included and travellers are responsible for arranging their own flights. Please note that the number of spots available on this retreat is limited due to the number of rooms at Kilmurvey House and our desire to offer an intimate experience to our writers and travellers.

Costs are in Canadian dollars, taxes included, land only. A non-refundable deposit of $1,200 CAD per person is due when you reserve your space. Final payment is due June 2022.

Note: In our efforts to keep costs low for you, we have NOT included credit card or PayPal fees. The credit card processing charges 3.4% per transaction, and PayPal charges 2.9% for Canadians and 3.7% for Americans. If you wish to pay using credit card or PayPal, we can still make that happen, but we will have to account for that extra cost and add it to your fee. For those who’d rather spend their money on a beer at an Irish pub than hand it over to The Evil Empire, we recommend secure e-transfers via your online banking. Contact [email protected].

A few notes

You may be required to climb stairs at certain points during the retreat.

Travel insurance is highly recommended.

A valid passport is required – you could be turned away at the airport if your passport is within a few months of expiry, so be sure to check your passport expiry date against what Ireland will allow. This almost happened to us – it was only by the grace of the attendant that we were allowed to board the plane!

Travellers are responsible to research the implications of COVID-19 on travel restrictions at home and abroad. Ensure you have everything you need so you aren’t turned away from establishments or airports. We expect those joining us to be fully vaccinated.