My Cill Rialaig Experience

I recently returned from a two-week art residency on the Iveragh peninsula, in County Kerry, Ireland, as part of the Cill Rialaig Project.  The Cill Rialaig Project was founded by Dr. Noelle Campbell Sharp, previously a magazine editor and now the owner of Origin Gallery in Dublin.  It “involved the rescue and redevelopment of the pre-famine village of Cill Rialaig as a retreat for artists, poets, writers, film makers and composers” from every part of the world (from Cill Rialaig The Best Kept Secret in the Art World). Since the early 1990s, over 3500 artists enjoyed the experience of living and working on the shores of Western Ireland.

On March 6, 2015, I moved into the little stone cottage that was to be my studio and home away from home for two weeks.  IMG_0190However, my story of Cill Rialaig started much before then.  I discovered Cill Rialaig in 2004, when traveling on the west coast of Ireland.  At that time, I resolved that when the time was right, I would apply for a residency.

Ten years later, after a career as an accountant in the corporate world by day and a painter by night, it was time to flip things around and start painting full-time.  I applied at Cill Rialaig and was granted a two-week residency.  Ten days after leaving my job, I landed in Dublin, and two days later I drove up the hill from Dun Geagan village to Cill Rialaig. It was magical.

I had planned to work on two different things for my residency at Cill Rialaig. I mostly wanted to paint the landscape and the sky and the sea on the coast of Kerry in oil on canvas. I also wanted to explore an idea that I had which was to work in acrylics and graphite powder on paper. I had no specific concept of what I could do with the mixed media work because I had never really tried.  It was a journey of discovery.

While I did work on my oil landscapes, it didn’t quite turn out as I had planned. It was a bit cold and a bit damp, so the oil paint took forever to dry. I tried different things, but the paint still didn’t dry as I had hoped. I ended up finishing one piece, which I donated to the Cill Rialaig Project for their fundraising auction. I still ended up with a number of canvases in progress that I took back with me. Painting 1They were mostly done, but still needed some finishing touches.

The challenge with the oil paint allowed me more time to fully explore the mixed media project… I worked on it every day. I explored various ideas. Some worked, some not so much… Here is a sample of the mixed media work. DSC_0001-1You can see a few more on this site.  I’m very excited about these.  I certainly plan to continue working with acrylics and graphite. I haven’t decided yet how they fit with my paintings in oil. Perhaps they don’t. They may very well end up being a completely separate body of work.

American writer Rebecca Solnit writes in her book A Field Guide to Getting Lost “You get lost out of a desire to be lost. But in the place called lost strange things are found.” I got lost at Cill Rialaig. And I found amazing things. I found the person I was re-creating, going from the corporate life to becoming an artist full-time, an artist by day. I found new ideas for my mixed media work. I worked a lot during my two-week residency at Cill Rialaig with little interruption. And I found that this was something that I loved. And I met amazing people – some with whom I will likely remain friends for life, even with the distance between us.

It may take some time before I fully realize what it is, but there is no question that my Cill Rialaig experience will have a profound, long-term impact on my life and my work.

At Cill Rialaig, I struggled with being away from the one I love and I struggled with the cold and damp and I struggled with the oil paint and I struggled with not knowing even a little bit of the Irish Gaelic language and I struggled with driving on the left side of the road.

And yet, I loved the people I met and I loved the rugged landscape and I loved the sky and the sea and I loved the ever-changing weather and I loved the daytime light and I loved the stars at night and I loved the time I got to work and I loved getting lost and I loved finding myself.

And I would go back in a minute and I would struggle again and I would love it again and I would get lost again and I would find myself again.

And, as my friend Eoin Mac Lochlainn so eloquently says in his blog post “Where do you go when you’re searching for inspiration?” (, I would be inspired.

And it would be magical.