The value of the writer’s residence is now well established; a temporary escape from the cares of the world, a chance to get some actual writing done. I mean the kind of residence that is duty-free, and not the low-wage term appointment that often renders writing nigh impossible. Of course, the duty-free kind has to be paid for somehow but first let me talk about other factors.
The largest writer’s residency in Ireland is The Tyrone Guthrie Centre in County Monaghan. The original home of the theatre director is situated in extensive grounds, including a substantial lake. You get a splendid bedroom cum desk, there is a large kitchen for self-service breakfast and lunch, and there is a communal dinner in the evening. Your fellow residents (typically a dozen) may include artists, musicians and thespians as well as other writers of various hues. It sounds ideal, and in many ways it is, but it may not suit every taste. Maybe you don’t care to share; maybe it’s too isolated (the nearest pub is 4 miles); maybe you need more stimulation than swans patrolling the lakeshore?
Some of these concerns are addressed in the residencies offered by the Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris. Formerly the Irish College (Catholic seminary), this is located in the 5th, just behind the Pantheon, within easy reach of the Luxembourg Gardens and Notre Dame. Mostly home to 20+ Irish students attending Paris universities, there are just 4 suites for artists and writers. If anonymity is your thing you need have no fear as you will be invisible to the students and your only enforced contact with your peers will be during the self-service breakfast (café et baguette). The other meals are your own responsibility but, hey, you’re in the culinary capital of Europe. And if it’s stimulation you’re after, think Joyce, Wilde and Beckett, and that’s just the Irish. And, yes, the nearest pub (sorry, café) is less than 50 metres away.
I have enjoyed stays in both of these places, and I have appreciated their different individual benefits. I could imagine a life spent alternating between them. But that’s never going to happen, particularly in these austere times. But I did recently spend a week in a different kind of residence that seems to offer a middle way. Birr is a small town in County Offaly; the more scientifically-minded will know it as the home of the Parsons family, the Earls Rosse. The 3rd Earl built the largest telescope in the world in the mid-19th century and the estate boasts museum facilities and wonderful grounds that are well worth a visit. Certainly, it was a good reason for my own stay and although Birr is not Paris, it is a thriving town with other cultural and social diversions (a film society, an historical society and God knows how many pubs). I wasn’t staying in the castle but it felt like it. I was in a B&B run by an artist called Rosalind Fanning. I had a bedroom that was straight out of Pride & Prejudice, there was a roaring fire in the drawing room, and the food (3 square meals) was Michelin worthy!
And how much did all this cost me? Actually, nothing because this was an experiment. Tin Jug Studio together with the Arts Office in County Offaly wanted to gauge the level of interest in this type of micro-residence. Judging by the number of applications, this is positive. There is prospect of continued funding beyond this experimental phase given this year's writers' experiences. Writers can also pay for stays outside of the funded residences as Rosalind offers a special rate to writers and artists. Please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
© Iggy McGovern 2014« Return to listings