Writers of every level and genre are welcome to our weeklong gathering in the wilds of Western Ireland to spark new material or burnish current work, as the Irish say, to a fare-thee-well.
“Every workshop is a community of craft.” ~ Eavan Boland, Irish poet. Led by bestselling author, documentary filmmaker, radio and television scriptwriter Phil Cousineau, our gathering will combine the spirit of an encouraging writer’s workshop with the contemplativeness of a retreat. You will be encouraged to spend time developing your manuscript rather than critiquing others’ work, and there will be opportunities for one-on-one consultations with Phil, as well as readings from Irish literature, guest appearances by local Connemara writers and musicians, and inspiring excursions. READ MORE
Phil Cousineau is a writer, teacher, independent scholar, documentary filmmaker, travel leader, storyteller and author of over 40 books including the national best-seller The Art of Pilgrimage, The Book of Roads, and Stoking the Creative Fires, winner of the Book of the Year Award from “Spirituality & Health Magazine.”
Over the last thirty years, Phil Cousineau has guided hundreds of writers to publish their books, articles, and thesis papers. To spark our time together, participants are encouraged to send samples of their work along with a one-page description of their Workshop Intentions to the instructor one month before the Writer’s Retreat.
“Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking.” – W. B. Yeats, Irish poet
Writers of every level and genre are welcome to our weeklong gathering in the wilds of Western Ireland, to gather with kindred spirits looking to spark new material or burnish current work, as the Irish say, to a fare-thee-well. Led by bestselling author, documentary filmmaker, radio and television scriptwriter Phil Cousineau, our gathering will combine the spirit of an encouraging writer’s workshop with the soulfulness of a contemplative retreat.
You will be encouraged to spend your time beginning or developing your own manuscript rather than critiquing others’ work using a two-part daily rhythm. Each morning offers sparks or prompts in the form of writing exercises and practices designed to take your work to the next level. After a robust lunch you will spend your afternoons working on your manuscript or meeting one of several special Connemara guests who have been invited to talk to us about Irish history, music, or literature. These exciting encounters will also serve as sparks or prompts for your own writing. Invited guests in 2017 include Brendan Flynn, local Connemara poet and founder of the Clifden Arts Festival, now in its 28th year, the legendary Irish drum maker Malachy Kearns, and Leo Hallissey, the founder of the Letterfrack Poetry Trail, who will introduce us to local poets and musicians.
We have also worked with Renvyle House to offer you a special one-act play by local actors based on the life of W. B. Yeats who honeymooned with his wife George at Renvyle, in 1917. Our retreat will also be enlivened with two excursions, one to Clifden Castle, and one to the gorgeous island of Inisbofin, where we will enjoy outdoor writing classes. We will also offer optional evening visits to the nearby villages of Tully Cross and Letterfrack for traditional sessions of Irish music and storytelling.
During the workshop your writer’s retreat leader, Phil Cousineau, will combine his popular mythopoetic (literally the making of stories) approach to writing with the nine-stage creative journey model presented in his book, Stoking the Creative Fires. Every day will begin with a reading from the shape-shifting world of Irish literature, poetry, mythology, and folklore specially designed to stoke your creative fires. Each of these invigorating sessions will be followed by a writing session designed to help you find and refine your own natural writing voice. This will include word games, memory prompts, visualization exercises, experimentation with story structure, interview techniques, dialogue practice, and optional evening gatherings around the traditional turf fire of our hotel where we can casually share our work. Each participant will also have the opportunity for one-on-one consultations with Phil Cousineau.
Over the course of the week you will enjoy the chance to replicate the ideal writing life, which is a dynamic balance between creative solitude and social immersion, and learn how to best present your work in the ever-changing world of publishing. Since teaching screenwriting at the American Film Institute, in the early 1980s, Cousineau has mentored and tutored hundreds of writers in a wide range of genres from novels, poetry collections, and non-fiction books to radio, television and movie and gaming scripts. For the last several years he has been a consultant on the mythology of movies at Warner Brothers, in Burbank, California, Lucas Films, and Pixar Studios, and is a founding mentor at the Path to Publishing Program at Book Passage Bookstore, in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Beyond the classes and tutorials that will be held at Renvyle House, the magnificent former manor house of Oliver Gogarty, immortalized as Buck Mulligan in his friend James Joyce’s epic novel, Ulysses, there will be ample time to experience the local Irish country life, attend cultural events, and revel in the golden opportunity to make friends from around the world.
The Writer's Retreat is limited to 15 participants so sign up quickly!
(Thanks to Writer's Retreat participant Chris Franek for the use of his beautiful photos!)
Sun, Oct 1
Arrive in Shannon; Transfer to Connemara (B, D)Read more
Arriving in early morning in Shannon you will be greeted by your driver and luxury vehicle and taken to breakfast in the bustling country town of Ennis at the Old Ground Hotel, where W. B. Yeats and Lady Gregory used to dine and planned the revival of Irish literary culture, now called The Celtic Twilight. (Travel time approx. 2 hours 30 mins.)
Our afternoon meeting: “The Task, The Full Story Immersion”.
Enjoy the rest of the afternoon at leisure followed by a 3-course Welcome Dinner in the award-winning Renvyle Restaurant and an evening of traditional Irish music at your hotel. (Overnight at the Renvyle House Hotel)
Mon, Oct 2
“The Mythopoetic Approach to Writing” (B, L)Read more
Enjoy Full Irish Breakfast at Renvyle, followed by a writing class on-site with Phil Cousineau, “Mythopoetics: The Secret Strength of Storytelling: From the Irish Seanachies to Neil Jordan and Edna O’Brien.” This session will be augmented with prompts for writing about your Intentions for the week together in Connemara, and an exercise called “pochades,” quick word sketches that will help you Visualize your past writing habits. We will also explore new rituals that will help you complete your work.
After lunch we will enjoy a guest appearance by the legendary Irish drum maker Malachy Kearns, who has provided the drums for Van Morrison, U2, The Chieftains, River Dance, and many others. He will talk to us about the traditional role of the drum to help connect both the musician and the audience with their own hearts. The storytelling session is also a metaphor for prompting you to ensure you have a heart-connection to your own work.
After a brief tea break, this afternoon we can enjoy the bracing Connemara countryside with the first of our Walk-n-Write exercises, in which you will be encouraged to walk the grounds and write about what you encounter. You will then have the rest of the afternoon to focus on your manuscript while the first of our one-on-one consultations with Phil will be offered. Dinner at leisure this evening followed by a traditional Irish music session in the popular hotel bar (optional). (Overnight at the Renvyle House Hotel)
Tue, Oct 3
“Sacred Time, Seize the Moment, Writer’s Routines”; Clifden (B, L) Read more
Enjoy Full Irish Breakfast at Renvyle, followed by a writing class on-site with Phil Cousineau. This morning’s session explores your relationship to time – how much time you spend on your writing, ways in which to use your time better, and the way you write about time itself. In the late morning we will enjoy a guest visit by the local poet, literature teacher, and founder of the Clifden Arts Festival, Brendan Flynn.
We then take our coach into Clifden for a wholesome lunch, followed by a short drive up to Clifden Castle, where we will “haunt the ruins” of John D’Arcy’s 19th century Gothic Revival manor house. Using the strange beauty of the ruins as a writing prompt, we will enjoy a languorous on-site writing session. This is followed by an optional late afternoon hike in the Connemara bog and along Coral Beach, near Ballyconneelly. Evening at leisure in Clifden for traditional Irish music and storytelling. (Overnight at the Renvyle House Hotel)
Wed, Oct 4
“The Real Work and the Cool Fire”; one-act play (B, L) Read more
After your Full Irish Breakfast at Renvyle, our morning session promises to be exhilarating. We will explore what the Beat poet and ecologist Gary Snyder calls “the real work,” the work that makes us real and the world real. The sparks and prompts this time are designed to explore whether the work is truly in your voice, if it is setting your hair on fire, and if it contains the surprises that are the hallmark of the work that will satisfy your soul. For this session we watch a DVD compilation of writer interviews and review them in terms of your own dedication to your craft, and use books of photography to create unexpected captions and write brief portraits. These exercises are meant to strangify your own writing.
After lunch at our hotel we will gather to prepare for the highlight of the day, a special performance in the lounge of a one-act play based on the life and times of Irish Renaissance man, W. B. Yeats. In a marvellous literary synchronicity, a hundred years ago, Yeats honeymooned with his wife George at Renvyle House, and the owners will be celebrating the centenary all year. To prepare for the play, we will discuss and write about the changing mythology of talent from the Renaissance model of genius to the re-emergence of the muse, the nine sources of inspiration. After the play we will meet with the actors and discuss the writing of the play and the role that genius has always played in Irish literary life.
This evening, dinner at Renvyle House followed by traditional Irish music in the hotel bar (optional). (Overnight at the Renvyle House Hotel)
Thu, Oct 5
“Fear of the Labyrinth & The Art of Getting Unstuck”; Kylemore Abbey, Letterfrack, Tully Cross (B)Read more
After a full Irish breakfast we will embark upon our morning discussion and exercises on the themes of focus, burnout, and the art of getting “unstuck”. These will include brief meditations as well as quick practices, such as the exhilarating challenge of writing a Ten Minute play, and learning how to listen in order to write better dialogue.
After lunch we will depart for an afternoon at Kylemore Abbey. En route we will make a brief stop in the village of Letterfrack, which was founded by the Quakers in the 19th century in order to provide help for the people of Connemara during the Great Famine, and is now a music and craft centre. There we will learn about the dramatic transformation of the 19th century St. Joseph’s Industrial School for boys into the award-winning Letterfrack Campus for the Arts.
From there we will travel approximately fifteen minutes to Kylemore Abbey. Set in the heart of the Connemara mountains is the Kylemore Abbey Estate, home of the Irish Benedictine Nuns, and the famous girl’s school which the actress Angelica Huston attended when she lived in Ireland with her filmmaker father, John Huston, in the 1960s. Visit the picturesque Abbey reception rooms, video, and exhibition and enjoy a stroll to the beautiful Neo-Gothic Church and Mausoleum where original owners are buried; browse in the Craft Shop; view Kylemore Abbey pottery as it is produced in the Pottery Studio.
This evening we take a taxi ride into the nearby village of Tully Cross where we will convene at the legendary Paddy Coyne’s pub with Leo Hallissey, founder of the Letterfrack Poetry Trail Project, who will arrange an evening of music and poetry with local artists (optional). (Overnight at the Renvyle House Hotel)
Fri, Oct 6
Inishbofin Island; “Sacred Space” and “Mentors, Muses, Seek Book People”; Peripatetic Writing (B)Read more
Enjoy full Irish Breakfast at Renvyle before departing for a tour to Inishbofin Island by ferry for a day of numinous solitude so you can review your week’s work in utter silence. Inis Bo Finne (Island of the White Cow) lies seven miles off Galway’s coast and is little more than 20 square miles. The main activities on the island today are tourism, farming, and fishing. Inishbofin has three official looped walks of varying difficulties, each offering spectacular views of the island’s wild Atlantic scenery. Inishbofin is a special area of conservation and a special area of protection. It has become an important centre for traditional Irish music and song with its own Ceilí band and plays host to many visiting musicians and artists. It is estimated that Bofin was inhabited as far back as 8000 BCE.
On the island, which epitomizes the notion of sacred space, we will engage in a writing exercise based on our own personal concepts of space – where we write, what our writing space looks like, the role of travelling to other spaces to inspire our writing. During this session we will utilize the poetry of Yeats and the modern poet Mary Malloy, as well as the stories of Lady Gregory and the modern Irish memoirist Edna O’Brien as prompts to spark your own writing.
During our time on the island we will also undertake the time honoured practice of Peripatetic Writing, where we will combine walking with the writing of brief pieces, such as poems, proems, or short essays that will explore one of our themes for the day, which is the role of inspirations and influences in our lives, those who have mentors or muses. You will be encouraged to write about your own influential teachers, a time-honoured exercise that helps us move forward in our work through the deceptively simple act of expressing gratitude.
While on the island the instructor will be available in the meeting room of The Beach Bar, the venerable Irish pub, to confer with everyone in our group to discuss the day’s writing. Return to your hotel for an evening of rest and relaxation. (Overnight at the Renvyle House Hotel)
Sat, Oct 7
“The Boon: Bringing It On Home” (B, L, D)Read more
After our marvellous hotel breakfast we will convene for a final session to explore the mystery of what the old blues singers, who inspired so many of the modern Irish musicians, called “Bringing It On Home,” which refers to closing out a performance. For us that will mean a morning discussion of the final stage of producing a manuscript we can be proud of, including the burnishing, reading out loud, and finally owning it, standing by it, then releasing it to the world.
After a light lunch of soup and sandwiches at Renvyle our afternoon session explores the phenomenon of brooding over our work, sitting on it, contemplating it, before releasing it to the public. For this session, we will do something innovative – even mythic – by gathering around an ancient megalithic stone on the hotel grounds that some visiting writers have dubbed “The Bardic Chair.” For the sheer joy of it, we will take turns reading and discussing your work in the chair of the ancient bards and share your plans for releasing your work into the world. And we will conclude this venerable tradition by discussing ways that you can help others at their own creative crossroads when you return home.
This evening we will savour a 3-course Farewell Dinner in the hotel restaurant with our newfound friends, where we will share our work around the great fire in the spirit of the Irish seanachies, the all-knowing rural storytellers. (Overnight at the Renvyle House Hotel)
Sun, Oct 8
Depart Connemara; Transfer to Shannon (B)Read more
We gather for our final Full Irish Breakfast at the Hotel this morning before check out and transferring to Shannon Airport for flights home.
*Lecture themes and exercises subject to change
(B = Breakfast; L = Lunch; D = Dinner)
Note: This itinerary is subject to change due to conditions beyond our control.
The Connemara Writer’s Retreat with Phil Cousineau
October 1 - 8, 2017
7 nights accommodation in Renvyle House Hotel
Full Irish breakfast daily at Renvyle House Hotel
Breakfast on Day 1 at the Old Ground Hotel, Ennis
3 lunches at Renvyle House: Light lunch to include soup & sandwiches, tea/coffee and including service charge
1 lunch in Clifden
3-course Welcome & Farewell dinners at Renvyle House with tea/coffee and including service charge
Luxury motorcoach & professional driver/guide for excursions to Clifden & Inishbofin
Airport transfer on luxury coach with driver/guide on Days 1 & 8
Travel and one-on-one consultations with Phil Cousineau
Quality time for your own writing – this is a “no critiquing” retreat and you will not be asked to critique other writers’ work, and vice versa
Guest speakers including Malachy Kearns and Brendan Flynn
A one-act play based on the life and times of W. B. Yeats
Excursion and on-site writing session at the 19th Century, Clifden Castle
Day trip to Inishbofin Island, to include writing exercises and quiet, solo writing time
Optional evening music sessions and storytelling
Retreat Does Not Include:
Airfare to Shannon, Ireland
Cancellation & Medical Insurance (ask us for a quote)
Meals and drinks not specified
Cost to obtain valid passport
Tips and gratuities to guides, drivers, hotel staff
Any items of a personal nature such as laundry, drinks and telephone calls. Any item that is not specifically detailed on our website or in the final retreat itinerary