Cill Rialaig is a contemporary arts project, comprising the Cill Rialaig Artist Retreat and the Cill Rialaig Arts Centre with exhibition and retail facilities, founded by Noelle Campbell-Sharp in 1991 and managed by a registered charity. The operations are located a few kilometres apart, in the townlands of Cill Rialaigh and Dún Geágaín within the broad area of Ballinskelligs, on Bolus Head, County Kerry, Ireland. Since opening, the retreat has hosted more than 5,000 painters, writers, photographers, potters, composers, choreographers, and other artists, from a wide range of countries, on residencies. The project has been supported by prominent patrons, local and Dublin-based committees, representative art galleries in Dublin, and Irish state bodies such as Údarás na Gaeltachta, FÁS and the Arts Council.
The first stage of what became a multi-phase project was the Cill Rialaig Artist Retreat, founded by Noelle Campbell-Sharp, a former magazine publisher also active on Dublin's social scene. Campbell-Sharp, who had a holiday home in the area, was aware of a ruined 18th century village on Bolus Head on the Iveragh Peninsula in western County Kerry, which was threatened by a potential road-widening scheme, and proposed its reconstruction and dedication as a retreat for creative workers, including painters, photographers, composers and writers, from Ireland or elsewhere, to spend some quiet time in which to continue, or refresh, their work. The village had lost its last occupant in the 1950s, and the buildings were a mix of wholly disassembled and semi-collapsed.
Campbell-Sharp established a voluntary board, supported by a local golf committee, and social, wine appreciation and art auction committees in Dublin. She purchased the site for 30,000 pounds, with some of her own funds and support from friends (including Tony Ryan, Renata Coleman, Oliver Caffery and John O'Connor), and 6,000 pounds from the Irish National Lottery, and explained that she wanted to leave an enduring resource for the local people. She then applied for and secured planning permission for eight buildings.
The project was planned and overseen by architect Alfred Cochrane. The foundation stone was laid by the Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, honorary patron of the project, on Saturday 21 September 1991. Other early patrons included John Bruton, John Hume and Dick Spring, as well as Bill Cullen, and support was given by Údarás na Gaeltachta and FÁS.
Work began with the construction of modern buildings on the sites of long-gone cabins, first two, at a cost of 50,000 Irish pounds each, then two more, then another, and two more later again. While made externally to conform to the pattern of the original houses, and reusing stone from the site, the new buildings were built with damp-proofing and insulation, small bathrooms, modern cooking facilities and storage heating, loft sleeping spaces, and concealed central skylights over the main studio work space. There were some questions about the project but much support from both artistic and local interests. The first two houses were ready in 1995. By 1998, still with two studio-cabins available, 180 artists had completed residencies, and by 2001, 600.
The conversation house and library was dedicated by President of Ireland Mary McAleese in 2008, to the memory of historic local storyteller (seannachai) Sean O'Connaill.
The arts centre and shop, originally branded as Siopa Chill Rialaig (Cill Rialaig Shop) were opened in 1995, in the settlement of Dun Geagan, partly to raise funds, and partly to provide a location for the public, local and passing, to view and acquire art, and take some classes.
Third phase plans
Guests have included painters, writers, photographers, potters, composers, choreographers and dancers, and other artists. The retreat deliberately does not have a website but is briefly summarised on the website of the arts centre. Its buildings are located along a narrow road deep into Bolus Head, near a cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, and remote from other habitation. There are seven self-catering studio cottages with natural roof lighting, six on the inland side of the road, one, Seaside Cottage, on the coastal side, overlooking the near-cliff like descent to the sea. There is also a meeting house and library (Tig an Comhra, literally "house of conversation"), which has no electricity but is lit by candles, and a utility building.
It is the policy of the project to offer its accommodation free of charge, except for a contribution to utility costs; guests buy their own food, and, if wished, solid fuel for the cottage furnaces. Some specific residencies, such as those of the Irish Writer's Centre, cover the utility fee also. Guests are usually under no obligations, although gatherings in studios or the Tig an Comhra are common, and at the Tig an Comhra local people, storytellers and musicians, also visit. The stated ethos of the retreat is of isolation and "eremitic-like" living.
As of 2019, more than 5,000 residencies have been hosted, with artists coming from Ireland, the UK, Russia and other European countries, Japan, Korea, China, the US, Canada and Mexico, India, Australia and New Zealand. In 2014, a whole team of Argentine artists (made up of painters, writers and musicians) landed in Bolus Head and stayed in August, marking the first time all members came from the same country. The main application process runs twice annually.
The arts centre is located at one end of the village of Dun Geagan (Dungegan, Dún Geágaín), one of the main population centres of Ballinskelligs. It has exhibition space, a small shop and a seasonal café.
The project is funded by philanthropic donations and grants, and fundraising events, with some contributions from Ireland's Arts Council and the government department responsible for the arts. Many of the artists who have visited the retreat have donated work to the project, allowing its selling on to raise funds. One painter, Aurelio Caminati (in Italian) stayed for a whole summer and left his entire seasonal output for sale. Work from the retreat have been sold at Noelle Campbell-Sharp's galleries in Dublin. The first of these, on St. Stephen's Green, was dedicated to work from Cill Rialaig, and was opened by the Tánaiste Dick Spring, with the Ambassador of the US, Jean Kennedy Smith in attendance. The Origin Gallery on Fitzwilliam Street acted for Cill Rialaig over years, and while moving in 2019 has already announced that it will continue to do so. For a period the Urban Retreat Art Gallery on Hanover Quay, by Grand Canal Dock, opened 2006, also assisted, with more experimental collections. Branded specifically with the link to Cill Rialaig, Urban Retreat hosted many exhibitions, with one opening, for Gemma Billington, attended by Niall Quinn and Kate Middleton.
Other fundraising events have included a corporate golf weekend with breakfast at the K-Club, a reception at Aras an Uachtarain and dinners at Dublin Castle and Club Med in Waterville, an art auction at the Irish Club in London at which a Jack Yeats sketch was auctioned along with a signed lithograph by, and donated by, Prince Charles, a series of annual golf events for ambassadors to Ireland and a 2004 event by gardener and TV personality Diarmuid Gavin, who also opened events in 2008 and 2014.
The project is operated by a primary not-for-profit company, the Kilreelig Project company (Cill Rialaig rendered in its anglicised form), the board of which includes local business and professional figures. It is registered as a charity with the Irish authorities, with a range of trading names for the different operations. It is overseen by a voluntary board of directors, primarily comprising local figures active in the community. Its unpaid managing director and chief fundraiser is Noelle Campbell-Sharp.
- "Leo will have to export me, says single Noone". Sunday Independent. Dublin, Ireland. 30 June 2019.
... the remote retreat, it has "welcomed more than 5,000 well-known and emerging artists..."
- McDonald, Frank (12 September 2011). "Cill Rialaig artists' retreat proves to be an unexpected success story". The Irish Times.
- "Cill Rialaig: The Irish St Ives?". 28 August 1997. p. 9.
...my investment in my neighbourhood" ... "I did it for the love of the decent, principled people here. I wanted them to have a resource they could be proud of and have access to. A resource that will last.
- McDonald, Frank (5 October 1991). "Making a feast of a famine". The Irish Times. p. 3.
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- Monaghan, Carmel (27 August 1995). "The woman who went up a mountain". Sunday Independent. p. 11.
- Murdoch, Alan (20 March 1998). "On the shores of inspiration". The Independent (of London). Retrieved 8 July 2019.
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- O'Reilly, Barry (9 September 1996). "Letters - Co. Kerry cottages". The Irish Times.
- Walsh, Deirdre (16 August 2001). "Consortium rescues Cill Rialaig Artists Retreat project". Irish Independent. Retrieved 8 July 2019.
business consortium ... pledging a donation of £120,000 towards the next phase of the project, ... specially designed composers' homes
- "Cill Rialaig - Residencies". Cill Rialaig Arts Centre. Retrieved 5 July 2019.
- "About". Cill Rialaig Arts Centre. Retrieved 8 July 2019.
- Dempsey, Kate (26 August 2017). "Cill Rialaig Project residency". writing.ie. Retrieved 8 September 2019.
- "Kerry Goal". The Irish Times. 30 March 1996. Retrieved 8 July 2019.
- "An urban retreat for artist Mick Mulcahy". Irish Indepdendent. 10 December 2006.
Mick Mulcahy is coming to Dublin ... brilliant, controversial artist and his girlfriend Suzy O'Mullane ... the star attendees at the opening bash for Cill Rialaig's new gallery Urban Retreat
- "The paintings, not the prince". Sunday Independent. 15 April 2007.
- "Yeats sketch in charity auction". The Irish Times. 15 June 1996. Retrieved 8 July 2019.
- Keenan, Shay (23 May 2006). "The Short Game - Ambassadors classic". The Irish Times. Retrieved 8 July 2019.
- O'Sullivan, Kathy (10 June 2004). "Celebrity gardener returns to his roots". The Kerryman. p. 15.
The generous Dublin man did not make a cent from the weekend as all proceeds were donated ... Cill Rialaig Project...
- "Countywide". Kerryman (Southern Edition). 23 August 2008. p. 24.
Artist Martin Finnan with Diarmuid Gavin, who officially opened... , and Eppie Gavin...
- "Countywide - ART250". Kerryman (Killarney and South Edition). 9 July 2014. p. 17.
Exhibition opening by Diarmuid Gavin...
- Dublin, Ireland: Companies Registration Office: Kilreelig Project Company Limited By Guarantee (15 trading names listed)