A residency at the Burren College of Art will provide students with the space and time for reflection and for writing. Students will have a month to commit to a preconceived writing project or simply to explore a range of writing possibilities
Thursday, April 27
We arrive at Shannon airport and travel by bus to the village of Ballyvaughan for our two-week residency at the Burren College of Art. Ballyvaughan is nestled in the heart of the Burren, a unique karst landscape in northwest County Clare, Ireland. Founded in 1993 by Michael Greene and Mary Hawkes-Greene, the Burren College of Art offers graduate, undergraduate, and artist residency programs to students from around the world. Transy students are assigned to Orchard House and Connolly House near the college campus, while the instructors are taken to Marie's House in the village.
Friday, April 28
After meeting with the Burren College of Art dean and graduate director, Timothy Emlyn Jones, we set off for a half-day hike through the hills of the Burren, lead by local tour guide Shane Connolly. Each of us receives a wooden walking stick to help steady ourselves on the rocky terrain. Throughout the hike, Connolly shows us examples of the Burren's unusual blend of plant life, including species normally found in Artic and Mediterranean climates, and tells us about the variety of animals that call the Burren home, such as foxes, hares, and feral goats. At the top of the hill, we enter a stone ring fort and enjoy an amazing view of the coast
Saturday, April 29
Several members of the group take a bus to Kinvara for the Cuckoo Festival. Although most of the activities associated with the festival don't start until the evening, after our return bus leaves, we still enjoy the day visiting Dunguaire Castle and hanging out in the local pubs and cafes.
Sunday, April 30
We take a bus tour of the Burren, stopping first at the Cliffs of Moher, which rise 400 feet above the Atlantic Ocean. Next, we visit St. Bridget's Well, once renowned for its healing properties. To see the well, we walk through a short grotto with walls covered by statues of saints, funeral cards and poems that remember the dead, and other personal items. The water trickles down a rough rock wall into a basin and many of us dip our hands before leaving. We make a brief stop at the County Clare famine memorial, which includes a letter concerning a six-year-old orphan whose only hope for survival is admittance to a workhouse. Despite a steady rain, we enjoy visiting Kilfenora, known as the city of the Seven Crosses, and seeing the remains of the Kilfenora Cathedral and the famed Doorty Cross, among other monuments. Our last stop is the Portal Dolmen, a Neolithic chamber tomb built between 4000 B.C. and 3000 B.C. The cracked limestone landscape surrounding the dolmen is almost as interesting as the structure itself.
Monday, May 1
In the evening, we gather at Orchard House to hear storyteller and folklorist Eddie Lenihan. He asks what type of stories we like, and professor Martha Gehringer tells him we enjoy scary stories. He spends the next three hours regaling us with tales of horrendous encounters with the fairy folk. Lenihan dispels many of our misconceptions about fairies. For instance, his sources have assured him that fairies are not always small. Many are adult-sized and look much like us except their skin and eyes are disturbingly pale. Fairy forts, circular stands of whitethorn bushes where fairies are thought to reside, are still regarded with trepidation in modern Ireland. Lenihan cites several cases where farmers and road crews have disturbed forts, only to suffer grave misfortune shortly thereafter. After he concludes his stories, Lenihan takes questions from students and gives the group valuable insights on the struggle between Ireland's traditions and the ultra-modern way of life that's accompanied their booming economy.
Thursday, May 4
After three days of meeting for class and writing on our own, we travel to Kilfenora for a night of Ceilí dancing. An instructor shows us the basic moves before the crowd arrives. While none of us become Ceilí dancing experts, everyone enjoys the fun and camaraderie of the dance floor.
Friday, May 5
Several of us travel to Inish More, the largest of the Aran Islands. The hour-and-a-half ferry ride to the island leaves most of us green around the gills, but we recover quickly once we reach the shore. Some members of the group take van tours of the island, while others ride in horse carts or rent bicycles. Among the attractions is a giant stone fort set on the edge of high cliffs. The walls form a semi-circle and it's uncertain whether the fort was built that way, or if it once formed a complete circle and part of it collapsed into the sea. Before re-boarding the ferry, many of us succumb to temptation and purchase one of the island's famed hand knit wool sweaters for ourselves or loved ones.
Saturday, May 6
The group takes the bus to Gallway for a glimpse of city life in Ireland. Gallway offers a wide selection of restaurants and pubs, along with inviting pedestrian walkways lined with shops and populated by street musicians and other performers. Sights to see include the Gallway Cathedral, Eyre Square, the Spanish Arch, and Lynch's Castle. We stay overnight and return on the bus Sunday morning.
Tuesday, May 9
On yet another beautiful sunny day, we travel by bus to Thor Ballylee and Coole Park. Thor Ballylee is a 16th Century tower where William Butler Yeats resided for some time. The tower was undergoing some restoration, so we couldn't go inside, but we did enjoy the grounds, especially the picturesque stream. Coole Park was once the home of Lady Augusta Gregory and served as the center of the Irish Literary Revival in the early 20th century. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, John Millington Synge, and Sean O' Casey all came to experience the area's beauty. They and many others carved their initials on the Autograph Tree, an old beech that still stands, now protected by an iron gate so no additional carvings can be added. Lady Gregory's house was torn down many years ago, but the park now serves as a nature reserve and offers pleasant trails through the woods as well as the pristine Coole Lake.