Escaping to Glenstal Abbey

For many years now, thoughts of escaping to the Guesthouse in Glenstal Abbey have crept into my mind, like a wispy filament of an idea that winds its way around your consciousness and refuses to leave.IMG_20180730_231809_632

Finally, after a somewhat manic June followed by an equally manic July, where I was getting little (creative) done, and even more frustrating, rarely had space to think for more than a couple of minutes without being interrupted; I emailed for available dates and promptly booked a night away.IMG_20180730_230949_389

Oh, all those feelings of guilt and anxiety and delight and excitement rolled hodgepodge into a swelling bubble of anticipation!

The day before I organised myself (I know, yes, yes, I know. Rare it is that those two words, “I” and “organised” come together in a sentence, but at least I am consistent) with all that is creative that I may need.

I wanted to write, paint, explore some clay-over-cloth art-dolls, experiment and try some new ideas.

But more than that, I wanted silence: deep, clear silence to think, I wanted to not talk to anyone; I wanted to exist in my own head without having to come out of it for hours at a time.IMG_20180730_231007_578

I brought my laptop, heavy watercolour paper, sewn cloth-doll shapes, paints, pencils, Caran d’Ache crayons, inks, scissors, 90% cocoa-solids chocolate to keep me zingingly alert, notebooks, and some sugar snap peas (fundamental greens for deep-thinking processes) (Or something along those lines) (Anyway, they were nice and crunchy for some mindless munching).


Glenstal Abbey is a Benedictine monastic community in Co. Limerick. It is also home to a boy’s boarding school, farm and guesthouse. The guesthouse operates on a donation-basis:

“The hospitality of space, of peace and of God is the gift of this place to you.  Only you can put a value on how that has been for you in your stay with us.  For this reason, there is no specific monetary ‘charge’.”

How lovely is that?

And indeed a gift it was. I drove down to Glenstal on Saturday, and, after some minor direction *Fails* (the signpost didn’t say what I felt it should say, so I went the opposite way), I found myself winding down the long avenue that curls into a magnificent forest; the Abbey, a sprawling Norman Revivalist castle with impressive round towered frontage rising from the centre of it. It’s breathtaking.IMG_20180730_231937_347

Once I collected my key at Reception, I found the sign for the guesthouse. I need to mention the gardens and landscaping here: everywhere is so beautiful. The pathway to the guesthouse has colourful, lush planting; overhanging boughs with pears and Rosa Rugosa with its enormous fat rosehips: like bright red tomatoes amongst the green verdant leaves and spiny stems.


I checked into the guesthouse which is as lovely as lovely can be. It is at once still and calm and airy and light; more beauty in the design and the wood and windows and beams, in the deep burgundy walls of the sitting room, the extraordinary blue of the stairwell.

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Downstairs, there is a huge sitting room/library, well-stocked kitchen, dining room and plenty of reading nooks and small rooms, decorated with original artwork all over.


My room was perfect: spotlessly clean and bright. After making myself a pot of herbal tea (I really live dangerously), I quickly started work -not a minute to spare!- and thought and thought and wrote and sewed and painted all afternoon, enjoying silent, meditative hours of creative bliss.

When the bells went for Vespers (evening prayers), I decided to take a break and attend. I have a recording of the Glenstal chanting from years ago, but nothing, oh nothing, could have prepared me for the sound. I could have sat there for hours 🙂

After dinner (silent, yay! And more importantly, delicious), I attended Compline (Night prayers) which was even more beautiful, a saturation of sound and billowing incense, the highlight (after the silence!!) of my visit.


I planned on getting up for the Lauds (morning prayers) at around 6.30am, but typically, couldn’t sleep until about 4am (I never sleep well the first night away which is an unfortunate affliction) so instead got up at 7am to work for a couple of hours; then, after breakfast, attended Mass too (sung Mass: even if you have no religion or faith, all the sung liturgies just touch your soul).


After exploring the gardens (next time, I plan on going when the magnolias are in bloom and spending a lot more time in the gardens), I decided I had best return home to Real Life.


I packed up my laptop and notebooks and the Art Dolls (Clay over cloth forms; I’m not happy with the skirt bases, but hope to remedy that this week to re-sew them so they stand with a flat –probably weighted- base; then I will sand them down and start to paint them, something like I did on these illustrations).


I packed the paintings (I’d experimented and played with paint and inks and Caran d’Ache crayons, so have four beautiful bases to work on now); and three painted cloth owls that Anna has been hounding me to make her for ages, one for each of the three small ones (In the shop, I bought all sorts: glass Worry Monks and silver angels and magnets and notebooks and bookmarks for them all so the three older ones weren’t left out 😉 )


And so, with plans to return, I came back to lots of noise and exuberant children and an attention-seeking dog and yippy ducklings and hens squawking and basket-making in the kitchen and a bowl of eggs that had been found hidden in the bushes and ripe blackberries and my own bed and talks of getting bees again and painted doorways and blue windows and lots of love and hugs and tales and dreams and home.

(After many years of procrastinating, I finally got around to releasing my inner Little Old Czech Granny and free-hand painted these designs around the doorways of our house. Fergal made the basket: a traditional “skib”)