?All The Best People Are Introverts?: What Happens At An Irish Creative Retreat

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Author and introvert Nuala O'Connor likes to work alone, but she's discovered that joining a tribe of like-minded individuals in Annaghmakerrig can be good for the creative soul.


For someone on book number 13, I haven't been on many writing retreats. There are two reasons for this. One, I don't need to go. And, two, I find I don't really want to go. The reason I don't need to retreat is that for the last 13 years, I've been a full-time writer. I have three children and have always written in the mornings while they are at school, so I have roughly five hours a day to call my own - plenty of time for even the slowest, or most contemplative, of writers. And my home in Galway is in a quiet place, so I don't have big city distractions to come between me and my work. The not wanting to retreat part is more complex. I am an introvert, so crowds have never been my thing. I'm always more comfortable one-on-one or in small groups of people. I like the solitary quiet of my bedroom desk, the peace of working things out there on my own. Also, I'm not just any old ?I want to be alone? introvert; I'm the rare kind who could be described as an extremely quiet extrovert who is genuinely interested in other people.

My personality type tends to be intuitive and creative; we love outward order but spontaneous creation. This is all me and it means that although I love great conversation and conviviality - as offered at most artistic retreats - they can drain me as much as if I were being drained of blood. To compound the issue, I am also shy and big groups of people, in particular, intimidate me. Over the years, I have taken, maybe, ten writing retreats. Most of those in the same place - the Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig in Co Monaghan. The centre is in a Gothic Revival house, built in 1805, the former home of theatre director Sir William Tyrone Guthrie. He died in 1971, leaving the house and its grounds to the Irish State, as an artist's retreat. And what a wonderful place it is - the rates are affordable and the bedrooms are palatial, comfortable and furnished with antiques; every wall and nook in the house

The not wanting to retreat part is more complex. I am an introvert, so crowds have never been my thing. I'm always more comfortable one-on-one or in small groups of people. I like the solitary quiet of my bedroom desk, the peace of working things out there on my own. Also, I'm not just any old ?I want to be alone? introvert; I'm the rare kind who could be described as an extremely quiet extrovert who is genuinely interested in other people. My personality type tends to be intuitive and creative; we love outward order but spontaneous creation. This is all me and it means that although I love great conversation and conviviality - as offered at most artistic retreats - they can drain me as much as if I were being drained of blood. To compound the issue, I am also shy and big groups of people, in particular, intimidate me. Over the years, I have taken, maybe, ten writing retreats. Most of those in the same place - the Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig in Co Monaghan.

The centre is in a Gothic Revival house, built in 1805, the former home of theatre director Sir William Tyrone Guthrie. He died in 1971, leaving the house and its grounds to the Irish State, as an artist's retreat. And what a wonderful place it is - the rates are affordable and the bedrooms are palatial, comfortable and furnished with antiques; every wall and nook in the house contains a gorgeous artwork. The lake and large grounds are beautiful; the food is abundant, fresh and healthy. The Tyrone Guthrie Centre is, simply, a paradise for working artists. And there are few rules. One rule, however, is that you must join your fellow residents for dinner at 7 pm each evening. Despite having spent many happy weeks at the centre, and genuinely loving the company of people who are on my wavelength, as an introvert the prospect of this nightly dinner - the first one, at least - makes me anxious. What if nobody talks to me? What if everyone at the table is shouty and super-confident? (Not a hugely valid worry where artists are concerned, to be honest, though I have met the odd noisy creative.)

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The centre accommodates all types of art forms: there you'll meet visual artists, dancers, composers, playwrights, novelists, sculptors, screenwriters, singer-songwriters, poets and translators. The dining table accommodates up to 20 - fewer some evenings. The din at table can be startling as conversations are picked up from the previous night, or old friends reunite and wine flows. Some nights, after dinner, there is raucous Scrabble, other nights there might be raucous singing. For the freshly arrived, quiet novelist, it can seem overwhelming. I scan the table and spot my fellow introverts in one sweep - they're the soft-spoken cutlery-fiddlers, the glancers, the water sippers. We exchange sympathetic looks. Then the woman to my left introduces herself. She's a writer, too, and an actress. She's from Galway, living in Dublin. I am from Dublin, living in Galway. She maintains eye contact. Though bubbly and confident and, perhaps, a tad shouty, she's also a listener and, soon, we're deep in conversation and laughing like loons.

The woman to my right breaks into song at odd moments. She's from Lyons, a translator, and has a na've grace, a childish, charming way of blurting her thoughts. And she sings like a nightingale. The days pass on. I work hard on my writing, deadline looming. I take breaks to walk by the lake, admiring the rhododendron, the buttercup-studded fields, the sedate glissade of swans across water. I go to the kitchen for cups of tea and get caught in hour-long conversations about publishing, divorce, drug-addled relatives; about blushing and scones and leaf-art and one-woman plays. The general push-me pull- you of art and life.

One man says he feels more at home in Annaghmakerrig than anywhere else on earth. Everyone present agrees. A painter says, ?That's because you're with your tribe.? We all nod in unison; who doesn't love to spend time with kindred spirits? ?And there's no small-talk here,? an American poet adds. I mention that as an introvert, I am utterly useless at small-talk. An Irish screenwriter leans closer, ?All the best people are introverts,? he says. And this is why I return to the centre, though I have no urgent need to go and my in-built anxieties sometimes make me resist its lovely call. There it doesn't matter that I don't do small-talk well. Or that I'm a loner. What does matter is that my inner life and my writing are vastly important to me and that I come alive when I talk about creativity with those who understand that. I return because my kind of people - my tribe - are always waiting, with acceptance, at Annaghmakerrig.

Joyride to Jupiter by Nuala O'Connor (New Island, €10.95) is out now.

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

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