Shelters at the Wilderness Sanctuary
Rachel Parry Boydell

The Wilderness Sanctuary, Allihies, Beara, Co. Cork
Photo Daphne D C Pochin Mould

The aim of this ongoing project is to create an artists' retreat centre, designed in such a way as to retain a sense of wilderness, on 48 acres of wild coastal land on the Béara peninsula in Co Cork. Small-scale studio and accommodation facilities will be available for artists who feel their work will be enriched by solitude, or who want to articulate a response to the spirit of the place. The retreat centre is called The Wilderness Sanctuary.

An integral part of The Wilderness Sanctuary is an initiative called “The Shelter Project”. During the first phase of the project, artists Alfio Bonanno, Alan Counihan and Chris Drury were invited to build 150 sq ft shelters from materials found on site. Stone was their obvious choice as here rock shows through the earth everywhere. The challenge however, was to leave something behind whose presence did not destroy the very nature of this stone wilderness.

More like stone tents than houses, these clocháns are not designed to live in for any length of time, and so far there are no other amenities; however several artists, hearing about the shelters through word of mouth, have already come for retreats.

In the book “Shelters1” poet John O_Leary was asked to “place” these shelters within a wider vision -  to describe how a longing for wilderness could answer to our inner solitude -  

”With the endless view westwards, the ceaseless sea sound, these shelters are a concentration of the wilderness. As the stones relate to the mountain from which they were hewn, their form evolving from the accident of the rocks, so the clochán relate to the landscape. They are inside the world, a curved, carved, space inside the mountain where one may dwell. They are shelters for the inner life. A sanctuary is a place made safe by magic in which we dream the world.” (John O_Leary “Shelters1”)

Shelter of the Bay” made by Alan Counihan,
assisted by Martin Sullivan, Kevin Lee and John O’ Leary Photo Aldo Belmonte

We have proposals for two more shelters, this time made by woman. The brief is fundamentally the same as for “Shelters 1” except for the range of materials. Although they directly relate to the place - reflecting the local geological and social history - they are not all sourced on site and include sensitive use of manufactured materials such as cast copper. (In the middle of the 19th century Allihies had one of the biggest operating copper mines in Europe.)

The meaning of “Shelter” was explored in a very personal way recently when invited artist Elspeth Owen (whose life and work includes periods of “travelling light” and sleeping out with no tent) led a workshop during which the participants searched out places in which to sleep out on their own. The emphasis was on discovering and using existing knowledges- of ourselves, of nature and of our own rituals for self-protection.

Although in some ways the vision for this project was inspired by early monastic values and settlements it is not about reinterpreting or reinventing the past. It is about living now- with weather, sky, sea, changing light and a particular piece of land, breathing it all in and seeing what can happen.

Rachel Parry Boydell