Notre Dame’s ‘En Plein Air’ course at Kylemore Abbey could be the perfect retreat

An En Plein Air residential art programme set in the west of Ireland’s most revered landscape launches Notre Dame’s programme in Ireland to the public

Notre Dame

En Plein Air at Kylemore Abbey: while the focus is on landscape art, the course has also been designed to create a holistic cultural, educational and immersive experience. Photograph: Getty Images


An inspired partnership between the Benedictine nuns at Kylemore Abbey and prestigious US university, Notre Dame is giving rise to some equally inspirational adult education courses.

This spring sees landscape artists of all levels invited to the Notre Dame Global Centre at Kylemore for its first ever En Plein Air painting and drawing workshop, a two-week residential programme.

Not alone is the Abbey set in one of the most beautiful landscapes in Ireland, but its location in the wilds of Connemara makes it perfect for those keen to paint in the great outdoors.

[Read more about the En Pleine Air course and how to enroll]

But how did an internationally renowned US university come to have a campus in one of the west of Ireland’s most revered locations? “When the nuns, who have a history of education, closed their school in 2009 they were seeking a third-level partner and, through a mutual benefactor, were introduced to Notre Dame,” explains Lisa Caulfield, director of the Notre Dame Global Centre at Kylemore Abbey.

Notre Dame, which is based in South Bend Indiana, already had European campuses in Italy, the UK and France. Ireland was a logical next step, leading the University to create a study abroad program in Dublin in 1998 and opening a centre on Merrion Square in 2004. Since then approximately 100 Notre Dame students have travelled to Ireland each year as part of their studies.

“Four years ago, when the Benedictine order approached us, we were already looking for a location in the west. We weren’t looking for such an iconic building as Kylemore Abbey but it was a good fit: the nuns have a history of education and the three pillars of Notre Dame’s mission are our Catholic ethos, community outreach and academic excellence. This was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up,” says Caulfield.

Notre Dame University entered into a long-term lease agreement to partner with the nuns at Kylemore Abbey. As part of that the university committed not just to bringing Notre Dame students to the west of Ireland but to engaging the wider community through a schedule of open enrolment adult education courses such as its En Plein Air painting and drawing workshop.

The centre opened officially in May 2016 but demand for places has been such that almost immediately it closed for further expansion, adding an additional storey to the existing education facility. The residential campus can now accommodate bespoke groups of between 16 to 48 people and has extended its education programmes from summer only to year round.

Enrolment is limited, so my advice would be for people to apply as soon as possible

“It’s a beautiful space and it has opened up the building to us in all seasons,” says Caulfield. “Also, we never wanted Kylemore to be a silo for Notre Dame students only, we have always wanted Irish participation in our courses too,” says Caulfield.

The En Plein Air painting and drawing workshop is one of a number of open enrolment programmes scheduled for the coming months. The two-week programme is led by international artists Jaclyn Dooner from New York and Simón Ramirez from Colombia. It also includes masterclasses from professional Irish artists Alannah Robins and Morgan Ferriter.

While the focus is on landscape art, and in particular elements such as colour relationships, light and shadow, perspective drawing and other essentials for capturing nature, the course has also been designed to create a holistic cultural, educational and spiritual experience.

“The aim is to teach students of all levels via technique classes in the mornings and then heading out into the Wild Atlantic Way for the afternoons to paint in a series of beautiful locations,” says Caulfield. From the beaches at Roundstone to the fjord at Killary and the wilds of the Lough Inagh Valley, there is certainly no shortage of these on its doorstep. “It’s breathtaking,” says Caulfield, who is Canadian.

“This is the kind of painting and drawing workshop that people traditionally go to Italy for but the environment here is really conducive to it because it showcases the beauty of Connemara. For example, we’ll be travelling out to the Aran Islands as part of the course, as well as visiting Errislannan in Clifden to paint their world renowned Connemara ponies.”

A great emphasis is put on creating a sense of community for participants. “People will come from the US, Europe and Ireland and we will all meet at a pick up spot and be brought to Kylemore by coach. We will be living as a community, eating meals together - provided by a private chef from the locality who specialises in locally sourced, healthy foods - and enjoying receptions and excursions together,” says Caulfield. 

The En Plein Air workshop takes place April 22nd to May 5th and costs €3,000. “Enrolment is limited, so my advice would be for people to apply as soon as possible, particularly as there are some discounts available for groups booking,” she says.

Executive business

The Notre Dame Global Centre at Kylemore Abbey also runs executive business programmes as part of its world famous Mendoza Business School.

It’s all about providing directors, CEOs and CFOs with the tools for self evaluation

These include Inspirational Leadership at Kylemore, an open enrolment opportunity for senior leaders from around the world to grow as leaders through a four-day course based on the values-based leadership model of Notre Dame’s signature Executive Integral Leadership (EIL) programme.

A transformational programme, it encourages senior executives to look inward in order to move themselves - and their organisations - forward. This programme starts on October 16th.

“It’s all about providing directors, CEOs and CFOs with the tools for self evaluation, which is very much in vogue in the US. It’s about looking at issues such as your own immunity to change, the characteristics you have that may be preventative of change and how we set up our own road blocks,” says Caulfield.

Mendoza Business School has been one of the top 20 business schools in the world for the past 20 years, and number one for most of those, she says. “Very many big companies in Ireland send executives to Harvard Business School but we bring our programme here, with international keynote speakers for an inspirational four days. It’s a good way of networking with like-minded people from around the world, and a safe space for senior executives to work on themselves.”

There are more arts programmes on offer too this year, including a residential programme for flautists, with master classes from Irish virtuoso flute player Sir James Galway (pictured above) and his equally talented wife, Lady Jeanne. This programme takes place June 10th to 15th and promises to be an intimate and supportive environment for practitioners of all levels.

“The masterclass mentality of bringing world-renowned people who are masters in their field to Kylemore, and actively engaging with the community, is very much a part of what we strive to do here which is why these three programmes are open to the public,” says Caulfield.

To find out more, visit international.nd.edu