Cill Rialaig

I was fortunate to be invited for two residencies at Cill Rialaig artists’ retreat in County Kerry in Ireland, first in 2003 and again in 2006. Situated on the rugged cliffs of Bolus Head overlooking Ballinskelligs Bay, the village of Cill Rialaig was a pre-Famine settlement occupied off and on from the 1600s until the mid-twentieth century. Robert Spellman watercolor of Ballinskelligs Bay in Ireland.Thanks to the vision and dedication of Noelle Campbell Sharpe, the tiny village is being rehabilitated as a refuge for artists, who come from all over the world. When we were making our way down to Cill Rialag for the first time, a local man in Killarney told us,“You'll like it down there; it's raw Ireland.” Raw Ireland it is.

The Village is nestled into a rocky hill among ancient house foundations, standing stones, megalithic ruins and medieval Christian settlements. The reverberations of time, lost cultures and rituals mingle with grazing sheep in a landscape of foxglove, gorse and lichen. There is a sense that this land has been a remote sanctuary for millenia, where the sad futility of life is both provoked and soothed by empty expanses of water and sky, the birds, rain squalls, and sudden bursts of sunshine. Coming to County Kerry set off deep ancestral echos for me. My grandmother Nellie O'Sullivan was born on Valentia island, just a few miles from Cill Rialaig. The watercolors here are inspired by the time spent both at Cill Rialaig and on Valentia.