Stoking the Creative Fires: Reflections on a Writer’s Retreat in Ireland

The Connemara Writer’s Retreat with Phil Cousineau took place early last month, and we’ve been delighted to read the wonderful testimonials from participants about Phil’s skills as both tour leader and writing coach, and how the retreat ignited or rekindled a joy for writing. We’re grateful to participants Ana Mozol, Stephanie Bennett, and Karle Dickerson for taking the time to share their retreat experiences with us here! Enjoy!


Tell us a little about yourself.

Ana Mozol: I am a professor of psychology at the Adler University in Vancouver and Pacifica Graduate Institute in California. In my teaching and private practice, I specialize in working from a depth psychological perspective with dreams, the creative process, and the mythology of love and sexuality. I currently reside in Vancouver, BC.

Stephanie Bennett: I am a filmmaker. I am from England but have lived in the USA and New Zealand for many years. I currently live in New Zealand.

Karle Dickerson: I am a published author, former editor/writer for young women’s fashion and beauty magazines, now raising a family and involved in horses (my son is an equestrian athlete).

Ireland writing retreat
Our group on Inishbofin dock

What made you decide to participate in this retreat?

Stephanie: I have been wanting to write a memoir for a long time and have been too busy. Just the idea of going there inspired me to start.

Karle: Having enjoyed Phil’s books for years, I knew he was a mindful traveller and a skilled writer. My sister has travelled on several of his trips. So when my sister told me that he was conducting a writer’s retreat in Ireland, I decided to sign up. I had always wanted to go to Ireland and decided after the retreat, I could tack on a trip to Ireland’s horse breeding farm, the Irish National Stud, a place I’ve always wanted to see. A traveller’s senses are always opened and it seemed perfect for tapping into that openness to nourish creativity as well.

Ana: I had been working on a book project on and off for over 10 years (mostly off). I knew, based on some dreams and synchronistic events that it was time to bring the project to completion. I took a leave of absence from my full-time faculty position to devote my time to writing, only to find that I was facing some real inner and outer challenges with regards to publication and giving my voice to the larger community. I recognized I needed to reach out for some external help.

I googled upcoming writer’s retreats and after a fair amount of research, felt the one that most called me was this particular retreat in Ireland. My maternal grandfather was from Ireland and I had never been. Only later did I come to understand the wisdom of my decision and the thinly veiled degrees of separation shared with Phil and other participants through mutual connections.

Ireland Phil Cousineau
Our inspirational tour leader Phil Cousineau

What were the highlights and activities?

Karle: Attended writers workshops, visited interesting sites, such as Kylemore Abbey with extensive gardens, the ruins of Clifden Castle, literary sites, including Yeats’ grave, travelled through the Western part of Ireland, spending time at the beach in reverie and writing. Visited local bookshops and heard from numerous authors, drum/bodhran makers, festival organizers, and historian speakers. We visited local cultural centres, like small pubs where we enjoyed “trad” music and dancing. We had free time to wander around Connemara, where we could write or hike. Highlights: Kylemore Abbey and writer workshops.

Stephanie: Our guide, Phil Cousineau was extraordinary and inspiring and the other writers were also. It was a beautiful venue and perfect for a retreat.

Ana: Highlights of the trip included: a private consultation with Phil, among the ruins of Clifden Castle, where I felt my passion for writing revitalized; reading poetry at the gravesite of W.B. Yeats; a day of integration, solitude, quiet reflection and writing on Inishbofin Island, the power and beauty of which can only be captured in poetry (which some participants managed to do); and the inn-keeper at Renvyle House offering the group a talk on rich literary history of the place complete with appetizers and bubbles!

Ireland Yeats Grave
Phil talking at the gravesite of W.B. Yeats

How, if at all, did the retreat change you? What were the benefits?

Ana: I felt a mystical connection to the landscape of Ireland and my soul has lingered there. I woke the first mornings after being back and felt a sense of being blessed by the country and its spirits. Through my interactions with Phil, I felt a deep soul mirroring that has been a catalyst to the creative fire moving through me again. The writing has been flowing since I returned due to a complex combination of things.

The first being the strong intention I took to Ireland with me. The second was being inspired by how Phil is in the world. What he modelled opened me to understand that writing can be so much more than a set schedule of two-three times a week. Writing can be alive, like breathing and can be done anywhere, anytime. It can ritualize life as it is lived.

One of the great benefits of such a retreat is the opportunity to be with a community of deeply creative individuals. I felt the individuals on this retreat intuitively understood what one of my mentors, Marie-Louise von Franz, affirmed in her writing, that there is nothing more destructive than unlived, unexpressed creative potential.

Karle: The writing workshops were life changing for me. I have returned home with more fire to write, I tap into my more extensive vocabulary because I am reminded that it’s there and appreciated by reading audiences. A funny thing that helped me too: I saw that Phil used a leather manuscript journal. I’ve used smaller ones for years and tiny field notes Moleskine sized notebooks. But I saw his full-sized manuscript leather covered journal and realized it really appealed to me. So I researched and found one when I got home. I love the rich leather feel of the cover and the touch of the handmade paper, so I carry it with me everywhere and write more than ever before, capturing ideas and allowing for flow. That’s really jumpstarted my writing.

Stephanie: I have been writing and certainly now have a structure I am comfortable with. I just wish I had more time between moving and other work. I guess we were lucky (I was there with my husband who loved it) because our fellow retreaters were highly intelligent, interesting and pleasant to be with. I would participate in another retreat!

Ireland Spiritual Journeys
Enjoying some downtime after a day of writing on Inishbofin!

Any tips or advice for someone considering a similar retreat?

Stephanie: I think it’s important to make sure it has what you are looking for and if not, that it is a place you would want to visit. Ask questions about the program and read other people’s comments about the retreat and whether it is guided by someone who has led it before.

Ana: I would say if you feel called to a particular place or retreat, let yourself follow it. Remember that things can truly change when you travel with a clear intention at the right time and give yourself over to the experience. You can experience a slowing down, a different relationship to time, an eternal sense of time out of the chronologically pressured order. In this relationship to time, life has the opportunity to make sense again. Such a pilgrimage can gently remind you to say yes to life again.

Karle: Be flexible as travel is always a fluid situation and things change. Some participants were rattled at not having a daily itinerary handed to them each morning and didn’t like not knowing exactly what was going to happen. But things did change a little on the fly, so I’d advise people to be ready to embrace the delicious “not knowing” and unexpected things that come up and altered plans at times.

Ireland writing retreat
Ana Mozol enjoying discussions with Phil Cousineau about writing & publishing

For more photos from this inspirational retreat, please visit our Flickr set – we thank Stephanie Bennett and Jo Beaton for sharing their photos with us. If these stories have inspired you to consider participating in a writer’s retreat, visit our website to browse our current journeys with Phil and our other wonderful tour leaders. Details of a Writer’s Retreat in Greece with Phil in 2016 will be announced soon on our website! Sign up for our newsletter to ensure you’re the first to hear about this retreat! 

Ana and Stephanie’s travel stories first appeared on the blog site Pink Pangea