ambassadors

A Writers’ Workshop on the Wild Atlantic Way

Blog by UCC Student Ambassador Nora Kirkham 

UCC MA in Creative Writing 

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I chose to come to Ireland because of an irresistible pull I felt to the land, the coast, and its rich heritage evident in the Celtic and Christian ruins that mark the sheep speckled landscape. As a young writer, I could think of no better place than Cork to launch my exploration.

In the Creative Writing MA at UCC, we work across genres including short fiction, contemporary poetry, and memoir. I am privileged to study under talented local writers and to have exposure to breathtaking poetry ranging from early Medieval Irish lyrics to the works of Seamus Heaney, Patrick Kavanagh, Eavan Boland, and Sinead Morrissey, among others. Cork’s literary scene is vibrant; we benefited from a short story festival in September and an international poetry festival just last week. Every week, poets and writers gather at venues such as The Friary and The Long Valley to participate in open mics, book launches, and readings.

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While in Ireland, I knew I wanted to venture out and mingle with the wider literary community. This month a few classmates and I decided to attend the Doolin Writers’ Weekend in County Clare. Held annually, the Doolin Writers’ Weekend brings together established writers, beginners, and everyone in between. Doolin itself is a quaint coastal village situated snug in the hills along the ocean. For years it was famous for hosting folk musicians, artists, and writers.

We set out in the early afternoon from Cork, arriving in Doolin within three hours. The sea mist greeted us and we shuffled into Gus O’Connor’s pub for lunch. We sat close to the fireplace burning turf while enjoying traditional Irish food and sipping black tea.

The next day some of us attended morning workshops on topics such as essay writing and fiction writing. I spent the morning walking along the road into Doolin, listening to the wind whistle through dry grass and moss, watching a border collie leap across the road lined with ancient stone walls. I walked towards the pier and saw the sun glaze over the waves that crashed against the cliffs.

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That afternoon, we sat at rows of desks holding cups of milky tea for a three-hour experimental fiction workshop with Dublin writer Rob Doyle. We traveled upstairs for a poetry reading and tea party. We listened to spoken word with scones in our hands. In the evening, we continued to discuss writing in a pub, recalling lines from our poems to one another aloud as live traditional Irish fiddlers played in the background.

At night, the stars spun like frozen fireworks in the sky. I walked home listening to the murmur of the ocean, walking past the stone walls, now cold, and the wind swimming around the village church bells.

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Sunday was too nice of a day to stay inside. Our imaginations needed space to breathe now. We wanted more moments in the wild landscape to feed us. On our last day, we jumped in the car and rumbled up to the famous Cliffs of Moher. We stomped through mud and gasped at the descent from the rocks. The expanse of water was endless, unsolvable, all variations of blue. We watched sea gulls whirl along the walls of the cliffs carpeted in moss and greenery.

We rolled through Lisdoovarna, a Clare village famous for its annual match-making festival and its consequent stories. We made our way through the craggy Burren, a national park characterized by winding country lanes through fields of ancient rocks and ruins. We visited the Aillwee Cave, listened to water dripping from fossils, waved our hands in front of our eyes in the darkness. We could see nothing. It is a mystery how we could bask in the sunlight above the ocean just hours before. Now we were in a beating vessel of the land.

The last stanza of Seamus Heaney’s poem Bogland is unforgettable and reminds me of this infinite well of stories in the landscape we are able to draw upon: “every layer they strip/Seems camped on before/The bog-holes might be Atlantic seepage/The wet center is bottomless.” There is so much to uncover.

We ended up at the ruins of a twelfth century Medieval parish. The grass was thick and silky, marked by ancient and recent graves. A Hawthorn tree, the gateway to the fairy world, grew along the stone wall beside the church. I looked over the valley at saw spots of sheep feeding below the pines. This is why it is so necessary to leave the classroom to write. To feel the moss on your fingers, to listen to the fiddles and the wind.

Our last stop before Cork was Lahinch, a small surf town south of Doolin. We watched the waves roll in, the surfers, the families holding hot soggy paper bags of salted chips, the lights from the pubs gleaming in the late Winter evening.

As writers, I believe it is vital we listen to the world, take in the fluorescent lights of a village shop, the flashing menu, the ragged weed growing from the rocks, the feeding horse, the rain on the window, the way the mud clings to the bottom of boots— we need to take it all in.

I feel blessed to be a part of a literary community that values ancient stories and individual creativity. I would encourage any young writer, artist or musician who is inspired to see Ireland to not hesitate. Come and see the Ireland’s wild secrets. Travel along these well-worn roads. They are waiting to give you words.

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