Retreating to the West

photo by Eoin Mac Lochlainn of Heinrich Boell cottage Achill

And, regarding true Patrons of the arts – here’s another one – Heinrich Böll.

Recently I had the privilege of staying at his cottage in Achill which, thanks to his family, the Böll Stiftung in Germany, the Mayo County Council and the Arts Council of Ireland, is now an artists’ residence that provides a short-term retreat for writers, poets and artists from around the world.

Böll was born in Cologne in Germany to a Catholic pacifist family who opposed the rise of Nazism. He refused to join the Hitler Youth in the 1930s but was conscripted into the army and forced to fight before being captured in 1945.

a portrait of Heinrich Boell that hangs in the cottage in Dugort, Achill
portrait of Heinrich Böll that hangs in the cottage (artist unknown)

He became a writer after the war and won many awards including the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1972. He became president of Pen International, a worldwide association of writers that emphasizes the role of literature in the development of mutual understanding, tolerance and freedom of expression.

The Heinrich Böll Foundation is part of the Green political movement that has developed worldwide in reaction to the traditional politics of socialism, conservatism and neo-liberalism. Its main tenets are ecology and sustainability, democracy and human rights, self-determination and justice.

Böll visited Achill regularly during the nineteen fifties and sixties where he could spend time with his family, away from the glare of publicity. His cottage at the foot of Slievemore mountain is now an artists’ retreat.

photo by Eoin Mac Lochlainn of Slievemore Achill

My sojourn at the cottage was a time of reflection, a time to think about new directions and new possibilities in art. Too often I am preoccupied with the next task, the next installation, the next chore – there never seems to be time to just sit and think. But here was a chance! It was such a great privilege to have been selected out of the many applicants. And such a treat to be there for a fortnight by the cold Atlantic shore. I didn’t mind the weather at all!

Ní gach lá a théann Mam ar an Daingean!


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