Arts at Annaghmakerrig

 

Sir, - Annaghmakerrig may not be the flavour of the month in Mary Russell's guide to places for artists to travel the world (The Arts, March 7th), but she should check out the "rumour" next time. Her information that it is all ballad singing, pub revelry and poker sessions at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre provided the best fun we have had since I took up residency in December.

It is true that there are more "retreats" nowadays for working artists. Yet in keeping with the mission laid out by its benefactor, the Tyrone Guthrie Centre is more than a space with a desk and a chair, along with bed and board.

The Tyrone Guthrie centre is a unique meeting point which, in less than two decades, has come to occupy a pivotal role in the cultural life of Ireland.

Under the aegis of the Arts Council for Northern Ireland and An Comhairle Ealaion, the board of the Tyrone Guthrie Centre has always promoted and encouraged vigorous exploration of ideas, objective examination of identity, constant challenging of stereotypes. Those who spend time at Annaghmakerrig seldom leave without a fresh impetus for their artistic endeavours.

Annaghmakerrig has also offered the arts councils in both parts of this island an opportunity to work together. They provide a venue for a vision that transcends either state. The residents who have come to Annaghmakerrig since 1981 have helped to realise the legacy of Sir Tyrone Guthrie, who bequeathed his family estate for the artistic community of the whole island to use and enjoy. The output of literary, visual and musical creativity from this vitally important resource centre is truly staggering.

Ireland has benefited immensely from that. It has benefited in the renewed cultural and artistic confidence of its people and in the spin-offs in world recognition that has garnered. Would any of that have happened if artists were consigned permanently to their garrets or isolated city studios?

Yet, Guthrie did not donate a place where resident artists and writers could languish in a cocoon. This area of South Ulster has always been on the frontiers of cultural exchange, a region where people from different religions and traditions, competing cultures and political ambitions, have forged a distinctly Ulster community in the southern State. Annaghmakerrig and its neighbours prove that the cultures and identities of this island can live in peace and respect. Far from being a retreat from the "cruel world", it is a starting point for the difficult ideas we must all embrace.

Long before the politicians of this island began their dialogue of peace and reconciliation, it was already well underway at Annaghmakerrig. Here, resident artists have intense dialogue about our similarities and our differences, the humanity that binds us all and the creativity that can absolve us from past sins of omission and exclusion.

The atmosphere of any workplace is only as good as its occupants. At Annaghmakerrig that changes by the week. Yet, almost without a single exception, the Tyrone Guthrie Centre is a workplace in the truest sense.

There are distractions, of course, particularly in lively discussion around the dining table; or in the kitchen when people meet. The rest of the time, residents can rely on the peace and inspiration of Annaghmakerrig to complete real work and most use that opportunity from dawn until well beyond dusk.

That is the normal routine at Annaghmakerrig, seven days a week. It's a tough grind, but somebody has to do it. - Yours, etc.,

Darach MacDonald, Tyrone Guthrie Centre, Annaghmakerrig, Newbliss, Co Monaghan.