Why the Arts Matter: Tyrone Guthrie Centre

Author Tony Macaulay is inspired by a residential, and hopes to go back

This morning I leave the Tyrone Guthrie Centre at the end of my first artist’s residency here. I sit at a well-worn 19th century desk and tap away on my incongruous 21st century laptop. During the past week I laboured for many hours at this old desk, perfectly positioned in front of two large period windows.

My unassumingly grand room in the Big House overlooks the still waters of Annaghmakerrig Lake. The house and the lake are surrounded by undisturbed woodland. I notice the leaves in the woods change colour, gently, day by day, in the mild autumn air.

Seven days ago I arrived with an idea for a novel and a few fragments of chapters, hurriedly written down during scarce free time between work and family commitments. I was unsure of what to expect and uncertain about what I could achieve.

The Tyrone Guthrie Centre is a residential workplace hidden amid the drumlins of County Monaghan. The Centre is open to professional practitioners in all art forms. Artists may apply for residencies in the Big House (as I did) or in the self-catering Farmyard Cottages.

In 1971, Sir Tyrone Guthrie, the Tony Award-winning theatrical director, left the house in his will to the Irish State, for use as a residential workplace for artists. The generous words expressing his vision stated: ‘...my said dwelling-house, furniture, pictures and chattels and the income of my residuary estate to be used for the purpose of providing a retreat for artists and other like persons... so as to enable them to do or facilitate them in doing creative work.’

Since then hundreds of poets, novelists, composers and visual artists from across the island of Ireland, and from further afield, have come to this place for inspiration and focussed work. It is an exceptional place - tranquil, warm, friendly and inspiring.

Everything I need is here. I have explored books in the library and read in the drawing room. I have cleared my head and opened my mind during long walks around the lake and the surrounding woods. In the evenings I shared a huge dinner table with other artists, enjoying the camaraderie and learning from their experiences, over the most delicious of food.

A highlight for me was meeting other artists of various backgrounds and ages, working in different art forms, from the North and the South, and from the United States. I met the Belfast born artist, John Byrne. He told me: ‘It’s a home from home, a relaxing place, a sanctuary. It’s absolutely essential that we have somewhere such as this, where artists can work and also meet with other artists. For example, a visual artist like myself can meet and learn from a poet here. It’s a privilege to have a place like this.’

I also met the poets Alice Lyons and Paul Casey, who discovered here that they would meet again next week, as both have made poetry films being shown at the Zebra Poetry Film Festival in Berlin. Like me, this was Casey’s first residency at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, and he shares my newfound enthusiasm for the place. ‘Annamaghkerrig is the creative oasis of the island,' he enthused. 'Rejuvenation and immersion that lead to a phenomenal amount of unexpected productivity. And the scenery and the food! Well…’

In my final hour here, as I look out the window and reflect on the

past seven days, I notice the sun is beginning to burn the morning mist off the surface of the lake. It’s a good metaphor for my week of writing in this place. I arrived with a concept and a few words and I leave today with a clear vision for the plot, structure and setting, a set of characters and 20,000 words of the first draft of a novel. The mists have cleared!

It has undoubtedly been a highly productive week for me and I hear similar views from other artists who have been here many times before. Today, I am aware I sit where many writers have sat before. I feel privileged to be here and grateful for the opportunity I have been given.

In a time of austerity and talk of cuts to the arts, I sincerely hope that the Arts Councils, North and South, are careful to protect this unique and valuable resource. I am certain that the time spent by artists in a place such as this yields untold cultural, social and economic benefits. The Tyrone Guthrie Centre is of immense value and as I pack my bags and leave here this morning, I know for sure - I hope - that I will be back one day.

Tony Macaulay is author of the memoir Paperboy.