And the craic was good …

Last winter I was awarded an Agility Award by the Arts Council of Ireland, which is helping me to research and make early drafts of my next poetry collection. I’m incredibly grateful as I wouldn’t have had the cash needed to fund what I hope to do: three short research stays in Dublin and two writing residencies over the coming year.

Surgery meant a delayed start to those plans, although I’ve been able to do online research and attend online lectures hosted by the Chester Beatty in Dublin – the subject of this project.

So, last week found me in Co Down in Northern Ireland, at the River Mill near Downpatrick. As I’ve discovered with other writing retreats, the best laid plans can often change once one gets one’s feet under the desk! I had an idea that I would work on a sequence for the book. Instead, I spent time putting online research in order – something that may appear to be procrastination, but it’s essential for accessing stuff easily. I created new work, possibly got another working title, and from that a new poem that (right now) I want to be the last poem in the book. This is a project where I want to stretch myself more; to be more fearless in how I approach shaping the ideas. I hope that I’ve begun that process in the past few days.

Looking forward to visiting the Meeting in Isfahan exhibition at the Chester Beatty later in the summer.
(c) Karen J McDonnell
Cosy bed and a lovely desk. I’ve asked Paul, who owns the River Mill, to give me first dibs if he’s ever getting rid of it!

River Mill - Room #2 05 June 2022River M‎ill - Room #3 Books 05 June 2022

River Mill - Scrabble 9 June 2022

There was a comfy reading chair in my bedroom. Although the River Mill is full of books, there was also a basket-full in my room – including a childhood favourite. Some of us played Scrabble in the evening – and it was decided that we should try to come up with a ‘found’ piece of prose or a poem, using the words on the board. Isy, you were a winner in my opinion! Photos: (c) Karen J McDonnell

The River Mill has a beautiful garden and the mill stream adds to the sound painting provided by the nearby sheep, cattle, blackbirds and wrens. I enjoyed doing some of my reading at the table outside.


Paul’s cooking is out of this world. BEST bakewell tart ever!


I took an afternoon out to meet up with my northern cousins. We hadn’t seen each other for at least four years – it was such a joy to spend a long chatty lunch with them. On the final evening, I jumped in the car and headed down the road to Coney Island and Killough. I love exploring new places. The strong sea wind blew the desky cobwebs out of me and I was ready for a last lovely dinner at the River Mill.




                    I wasn’t the only one enjoying the sea air at Coney Island – link here for Liam Neeson speaking the Van Morrison song of the same name. Photos (c) Karen J McDonnell          

View back to the village from Killough pier. Photo (c) Karen J McDonnell