Come to Beara and leave your troubles behind, advises Alex Barclay who found it impossible to leave after attending a writer’s retreat
THERE are only three places in the world that I can officially say I’m in love with — not just that I like, or enjoy, or even love, but that really lift my heart when I think of them — places I miss when I’m away for too long, that hold special memories for me, places that will always draw me back.
My greatest love, among them, is the beautiful, rugged and remote Beara Peninsula. My first visit to Beara was in 2004 for a two-week stay in Anam Cara Writers’ and Artists’ Retreat to work on my first book.
I travelled by train from Dublin to Cork, then took the Harrington’s bus from the city, staring out the window all the way, mesmerised by the countryside around me.
The most striking moment was hitting Glengarriff Harbour when I looked out across the water, calm and sparkling and dotted with boats and it felt like releasing a breath I’d been holding for too long.
When I got to Anam Cara that night, the welcome was warm and friendly, and I felt instantly at home. The room where I would sleep and write for the weeks that followed was The Postcard Room, with its vast window looking out across green fields and a white farmhouse or two to Coulagh Bay.
If you lean into the glass, to the right, you can see the row of pastel-coloured houses that leads into the tiny, picturesque village of Eyeries, a kilometre from Anam Cara.
Out of sight, until I went exploring the next day, was the river that runs through the grounds. A flight of stone steps with a rope handrail takes you down to it. Ahead of you at the bottom is the wooden bridge that crosses the river, and to the right, the waterfall that makes it all the more breathtaking.
It was the just the beginning of all the sights that Beara has to offer. Around every bend, a different spectacular view is handed to you, like it’s being dealt from a deck of postcards.
After that first trip, I kept coming back, and, eventually, moved to Eyeries in 2007. I had no plan, other than to rent a place for a while and write my third book. And here I am 12 years later.
Beara is home. It’s like my heart always knew it, and my life caught up. I still get blindsided by the beauty of the surroundings.
It could be anything: The light on the water; the silence at night when it’s broken by the sound of the waves; the foxgloves that border the lane to the pier; a herd of sheep running along the road but, whatever it is, I regularly stop and say to myself, “I live here” and I feel incredibly lucky that I do.
There’s a kind of magic in the air here, a creative soul to the place, which is why so many writers and artists are drawn to it, many of them, like me, discovering it through Anam Cara. I lead a very quiet life here, particularly over the last few years, which I’ve spent tucked away at home, working on two books. In both cases, for the first time in my writing, Beara is the setting in both books for very specific and different reasons.
The most recent release, I Confess, is a dark psychological thriller set on a fictitious headland called Pilgrim Point. I’ve always been drawn to small-town settings — usually American, one of them being my second small-town love, Breckenridge, Colorado. However, as the story for I Confess developed (a reunion of childhood friends that turns venomous, and murderous), I realised it had a natural home in Beara — but for none of the horrifying and nasty reasons. My imagination takes care of that. It was the landscape here that inspired me — the isolation, the ruggedness, the churning Atlantic in a storm, perfect as a backdrop to the claustrophobic inn where the action unfolds. I was inspired, too, by the fierce loyalty that people born here have for Beara, and the strong pull that it has when they move away ... not that coming back to it ends well for the characters in the book.
THE other book, My Heart & Other Breakables, is for teens, and it shows Beara through the eyes of a 15-year-old American girl who moved to Eyeries with her author mother, whose recent loss she is grieving. It’s very much a love letter to Beara and the people, written as the diary of a very sweet, funny, heartbroken girl who loves this new place she lives, but is struggling to find her place there, without her mother. Essentially, it’s about love, family, friendship and support through difficult times, something that I’ve seen so much of in my time here.
And Beara has captured more hearts than just mine. Everyone who comes to visit me, comes back again and again, which means the world to me. For most of them, that means at least a three-hour drive, but usually a lot more. Even though I’m not from Beara, I feel such a sense of pride in it. I love watching their faces light up at the views, how they rush out the front door to watch the sun set, I love how easy it is for everyone to relax here. Mobile phones are abandoned, adventures are had, amazing memories are made, and treasured.
There is so much to Beara — historically, archaeologically, socially, culturally, spiritually — that everyone finds something that interests them. And the beauty is, that even at its busiest, it never feels over-run. Castletownbere, on the south side of the peninsula, is the largest white fish port in Ireland, and though it caters brilliantly for tourists, it’s a working fishing town, so it’s not designed around them, which makes it stand out to visitors who prefer to get more than just a tourist’s-eye view when they’re travelling.
Beara truly deserves the description “unspoiled”. It’s rock solid in its identity, and so are the people who live here. It’s not the place to come to if you expect the world to bend to your way of doing things. There’s a Beara way, and, trust me, it’s better than yours.