I thought it might be fun to post this because it is an incredibly great place to go if you are a writer/artist. I love it!
There is a giant frog outside the kitchen window, at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, where I have taken up residence. On closer inspection, the frog is not a frog, it’s two frogs humping, in the rain. At first, I am shocked. But what could be more natural? It is, after all Spring, a time when all of the natural world begins to show signs of creating new life. And where more natural for the frogs to be cavorting than at an artists retreat? Artists are, after all, by nature creative and the urge to mate and procreate is the strongest creative urge that exists.
I have not come here to procreate, at least not deliberately at any rate. I have come here to write a book in peace. But as I contemplate the frogs, artistically, I wonder idly whether Sir Tyrone Guthrie, who set this place up, may have had other ideas in mind for the artistic inhabitants than simply the production of books and things.
Guthrie was himself a distinguished theatrical producer and director. When he died in 1971, he bequeathed his house and grounds, on the edge of a lake, in the countryside of Monaghan to the people of Ireland (both North and South) so that artists and other creative persons could have a place to work that might be conducive to creativity. Today, twenty five years since it first opened, the Tyrone Guthrie Centre has been a temporary home for thousands of artistic types, from the very famous to the not so famous, including novelists, poets, painters, film makers, and even the occasional very famous rock star. Guthrie was undoubtedly a visionary and a great philanthropist, and it is an extremely clever scheme, whereby an artist, (if accepted), can come and live for a time in this, a fabulous country house, and be given a warm and tastefully furnished room, and a studio, in accordance with his or her needs. Everything is provided, including delicious food, the likes of which cannot be found in most hotels, and a tranquil, beautiful setting to work in.
There is only one stipulation that Tyrone Guthrie made. And it could be interpreted in the most innocent of ways. In order to make sure that no-one feels left out, and that a ‘family atmosphere’ is created, it is mandatory that all of the artists eat dinner together, every night. An innocent request, perhaps. But being a visionary and a dramatist, it is possible that he unwittingly created the original ‘Big Brother’ house.
Of course there are no hidden cameras here. And you don’t have to share a room, or even a shower. But the stage is set for drama, every night when the artists make their way down to the dining room. Because you never know who you might meet. And whereas you might bump into strangers every day, in your normal life, here there is no getting away from them at dinner, every night. There is, therefore, the potential for fights and feuds, for back biting and bitching, for artistic types (at their worst) are notoriously given to envy and to one upmanship. But given the circumstances, there exists also not only the potential to make new friends, there is also the potential to find yourself seated next to a person to whom you are sexually attracted. And there is the potential to find yourself falling in love.
Of course not everyone comes here with romance in mind. Many of the artists are married, after all. But they come here without their friends, without their families, partners, pets or kids to distract them. There is no television, or radio, there are no shops, or cinemas. Even the mobile phones don’t work in the house, and if they are switched on, must be on silent. There are, therefore, no outside distractions, except the staff, who are charm personified. More than once, it is said, young artists and writers have been captivated by Valerie, the blonde and beautiful gardener.
Being of an artistic bent, the inmates here are by nature more imaginative, more sensitive, and more often than not, more given to inventing drama of one kind or another than normal people. They simply can’t help it. Which is why I find myself more than a little curious now about what might happen to me, while I am here.
I have heard stories, of course. And I couldn’t help noticing that I have packed a slinky silk outfit and a pair of silver snakeskin stilettos, which is at odds with my desire to knuckle down and get my book finished, in a distraction free environment. It was wild here, in the early days, according to Bernard Loughlin, who was the Centre’s first administrator. ‘It wouldn’t be the place it is if there weren’t strange behaviour, naked swimming at dawn, carousing and sexual encounters of the more dubious sort.’ Whatever that means. I have enquired of the present director, Sheila Pratschke, and she has diplomatically assured me that she never notices if that kind of thing goes on now. Only if rules are broken does she intervene. But she did also say that the only time she has had to throw people out was for unwelcome nocturnal visits to ladies’ rooms.
From what I can gather, this is a place to meet people when you are least expecting it. One painter who has been coming here regularly since the early days tells me that she has met one husband here and one long term partner as well as having had numerous interesting encounters with members of the opposite sex. One young man she met was sleeping with three different artists, simultaneously, but nobody seemed to mind. And there have been several marriages between people who met here. Not to mention illicit affairs.
I have been here for nearly two weeks now, and it is not my first time coming here. I first started coming here in my twenties. At that time I was much too intimidated to make conversation, and could only listen. That was in the wilder days, when everyone walked the few miles to the Black Kesh pub after dinner, and when all night drinking sessions were customary. Over the years, as I have grown less shy, I have joined in with walks in the woods, been rowing on the lake and participated in all kinds of lovely parties, recitations and all night Trivial Pursuit tournaments. But never once in all that time has there been even the tiniest frisson of romance. Whether it is my fault, or whether the fault lies with the talent, I don’t know, but that is the truth.
I am not disappointed, however. I console myself with the thought that perhaps Tyrone Guthrie had no such intention for the place and that perhaps the shared dinners are simply a way to avoid the loneliness of an artistic life. And a way to meet new friends and to share ideas. Perhaps romantic encounters, however thrilling, would be a distraction from the really important work of writing books and painting pictures and things. But if all of life is a stage, then the Tyrone Guthrie Centre particularly is so. Which means that you absolutely never know what way the plot will twist and turn. I have the silver stilettos, just in case.