We arrived on the weekend of the great storm. When we woke in the morning we could barely restrain the door of the house as it leapt out of our hands. The waves on the cliffs below were spiraling high into the sky, the wind skimming the tops of the waves, gathering its plunder into walls and towers before it was thrown back down into the sea in wild abandon. We danced with excitement on the top of the cliffs outside the little cottages of Cill Rialaig and with adrenalin high in the racing wind, we took off up the narrow road towards Bolus Head, the rain and wind simultaneously wetting and drying us as we bowed beneath it. Then the unimaginable happened, just as we began talking to another walker, the wind suddenly scooped low and hard and lifted us off our feet, airborne, and threw us with unyielding force back onto the road, pushing us on uncontrolled feet and clutching useless hands, into the rock walls whereupon the other walker and I fell on top of each other into a ditch, soft with muck and tussocks of grass. Mike at the last moment managed to catch hold of the wire fence where he clung for dear life till the wind’s attention went else where…. Nature. My feeling of great connection and exuberance simmered into brooding caution and fearful respect and I tottered home suspicious of every gust, stiff and sore.
We are in Cill Rialaig, artists in residence in one of the seven available pre-famine cottages for artists on the cliffs of the Atlantic and off the ring of Kerry on the Iveragh Peninsula. So wild and so beautiful. We have been here before, 15 years ago. We came with Sollai while Jake was at his school for gifted young musicians in America. We thought a sojourn here would be closer to Jake if he needed us and in the meantime we would create and be inspired in this amazing environment. We loved the residency so much, we rented a house for four extra months in the same area after the residency finished and developed a great series of our work, Mike on the Vikings and me on the Skellig Monks.
It’s a tough time of year to be here, but we were here fifteen years ago during the same period and we have been waxing lyrical for the past fifteen years on the extraordinary light during the winter period and we wanted to experience it again. How lucky are we! Here in this magical light, the air so clean and up here on the cliffs, the weather patterns before us are constantly changing, emptying out and refilling with light and grey and black and aqua and gold and pink, tipping the crests of the water with silver and creaming up the sky under blue black clouds, piercing rays of the whitest light searing the water and touching sodden cliff horizons with a golden edge.
We walk for a few hours every day, drawing and painting as we go, up into the hills through prickly wet paddocks, clambering over fences and rocks. We have found two of the most amazing ring forts, and have wandered over them, mapping their abodes and tunnels and entrances and burial places. One of the ring forts, for sure, is an ecclesiastical abode with the enclosed burial ground outside the main circular building, a standing stone bearing the insignia of Christianity. The other one, in the hills above our little village, looks like a farmer’s home and it is in sight of the other ecclesiastical fort. It has what looks like a chase that runs alongside the home paddock and up over the hill top where four standing stones, sentinels of varying height, seem significantly inline with the islands of the two kings in the sea.
One day, on one of our walks, sheep were grazing on the succulent grass on the edge of the road, scattering as we came near, except for one, solid and muscular this sheep was a ram and he glanced balefully at us, his body rigid, his lip curling and ripples of flesh creasing up over his nose. I could feel that age old sensation of danger up and down my spine, but he let us pass and I knew once again how out of touch I was with earth. Sometimes we are so civilized, we become too safe and sanitized, our instincts become neutralized and our language of our experiences is about how beautiful it all is without any real respect for the deep primal wildness in its essence. I feel the touch of the wild here. I am not comfortable at all. But I feel deeply, passionately alive. It is great for my art. My work is in an uncomfortable state of transition. Is it good? Will it be good? Maybe not, but it doesn’t matter. I am creating and it is all fodder for the best work to come.