Photographer Bill Miles’ Journey to Cill Rialiag, a Remote Artists’ Retreat along Ireland’s Rustic Coast
If ever there were a Leap of Faith fairy tale, it might start with the triumph of Noelle Campbell-Sharp, a colorful and commanding patron of the arts, and owner of Dublin’s Origin Gallery. In the remote and spectacularly rugged village of Ballinskelligs, Co Kerry, Ireland, exists a collection of ancient ruins dating back to the sixth century. In the 1980’s, the government initiated a plan to rehabilitate the primitive Bolus Road, which winds along adjacent cliffs, to accommodate modern tourist busses. Learning of this, Noelle set her determined mind to defend the magnificent landscape against such an affront. Her solution was to acquire and restore the ruins into a retreat for artists, “an essential oasis for the world’s best creative minds, who will see it as a beacon of light in a troubled world,” as she passionately describes her vision. Overcoming bureaucratic and financial obstacles too burdensome to catalog here, Noelle succeeded in thwarting the tourism development, and opened the doors to Cill Rialaig in 1991. In the years since, over 3000 artists from every corner of the globe have found their way here – seeking either monastic refuge, or communal inspiration – both are possible. What they didn’t find, is a website. In an effort to preserve its isolation, entry to Cill Rialaig, which is free, is granted by long-hand application (email [email protected]) often months or years in advance. However, one can checkout the nearby, extraordinary Cill Rialaig Art Center for an online taste.
I had the amazingly good fortune to be able to stay at the Cill Rialaig retreat. While on assignment in Ireland, I became enamored with the landscape and elected to extend my trip to pursue some personal photography. I was in a creative crisis at the time, questioning my artistic worth, uncertain of the viability of my career of 20+ years. I longed for an opportunity to immerse myself in my work and explore my deeper connection to photography beyond its waning ability to pay bills. And then I learned of Cill Rialaig, from a friend of a friend who had once taken residence there. In what can only be regarded as a divine alignment of the Universe, a labyrinth of referrals and phone calls led me to Noelle herself. I began explaining my story to her; after only a few words, she cut me off and offered me one of the cottages, which had an unlikely vacancy beginning the next day. With a crude map and white knuckles (have you ever driven in Ireland?), I found my way to this magical village, and spent the next several days photographing the artists-in-residence, locals, and landscape in a giddy state of awe. I could have stayed for weeks, but I was immensely grateful for the brief moment of artistic healing I was gifted. I left with a rejuvenated soul and a fresh love affair with my camera and its possibilities.
Click an image below to view the gallery:
View more of Bill’s work at billmiles.com