Pictured above is the restored cliff-side village of Cill Rialaig on the west coast of Ireland. Recently, Irish TV ran this beautifully produced piece https://www.rte.ie/player/series/nationwide/SI0000001172?epguid=IH000400597about the amazing artist center that has benefited thousands of painters, musicians, writers, and artists from various fields in the last 30 years.

The inside of one of the cottages

Watch this evocative television piece, and don’t be surprised if you feel an urge to book a trip to Ireland. If you’re an artist, you’re probably already dreaming of spending a few weeks there.

For Ed Cahill, art provided a life-changing alternative to prison

Many people come up with wild ideas of how to help society, but few get to experience the kind of efficacy that Cill Rialaig Project founder Noelle Campbell-Sharpe has gained from following her dream. Her whole intention was to impact the creative lives of others. It’s worked out incredibly well for three decades and counting.

From abandoned ruins to turning points

By the time Campbell-Sharpe first showed up in the area, the seven humble stone homes of Cill Rialaig village had “gone derelict,” as the Irish say. Pouring her heart, soul, muscle, brains, and money into her scheme, this Irish dynamo saved a historically and culturally significant piece of her homeland—all the while nurturing the creativity of artists from Ireland and around the world. In short, she created powerful turning points for many people.

“Main Street” in the village/Bolus Head’s only road

I was blessed to spend a month in one of those cottages in 2012, beginning what would become Open Admissions (Wild River Books, 2017). I’d gone there planning to write about my last semester of teaching, but the place where I was writing worked its way right into the narrative. One way or another, Cill Rialaig gets into the residents and their work. I saw that and heard as much from my fellow villagers, some of whom were making second or third visits to this austerely beautiful and isolated spot on the western edge of Europe.

Irish artist Vera McAvoy, one of my neighbors that month, became a friend. Watch this segment from Irish TV about Vera and her work. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MsjMrHKnoWM

In the course of our lives, we all learn the importance of place. Some locations matter a great deal, don’t they? It’s right and good to honor people, institutions, and communities that elevate place from the mundane to the sacred, changing our lives for the better. I will forever be indebted to Ms. Campbell-Sharpe and the staff of Cill Rialaig Project. Thank you, Noelle. And thank you, Vera and fellow villagers.

If we’re lucky, we get to have one experience in our lives when place plays the starring role. Vera’s been back to Cill Rialaig at least once since 2012, meaning that the village’s cliff-side Celtic magic continues to drive her art. And I am delighted and honored to have been selected to return in the fall of next year, when we hope COVID will be just a memory.   

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Ned Bachus is the author of Open Admissions (Wild River Books, 2017) and of the TURNING POINTS blog on nedbachus.com and on his OPEN ADMISSIONS Facebook Page. City of Brotherly Love (Fleur-de-Lis Books), his book of stories, was awarded the 2013 IPPY Gold Medal for Literary Fiction.