I always find it hard to pick favourites, but one of my favourite things is when we find a place that we want to return to time and time again with our students as well as with friends and family. I love sharing special spots in my home country but also seeing them with fresh eyes through the experiences of our guests. I am always looking for places that are off the beaten track; seeking authentic experiences that offer a meaningful glimpse into a new place.
A few years ago, I was researching an area named Mizen Head, located on Ireland’s most southerly point in county Cork. Cork has become one of our favourite counties because of its wild natural beauty and food culture. I was interested in traveling all the way to the end of Mizen Head and in my research,a I came across a place called “Three Castle Head.” It sparked my interest, but I found only a little information online. I learned that it was on private land and that the owner was happy to allow visitors to cross through his fields to reach the castle.
We decided to take our next group of summer students to see Three Castle Head. Venturing on the winding and spectacularly beautiful road to Mizen Head, our bus seemed to grow bigger as the road became narrower and narrower. We parked in a small car park and walked uphill towards a farmhouse. We saw a hand-painted sign with an arrow saying” Three Castle Head”. It also reminded us to close the gates to keep the sheep in.
We followed the lightly trodden grass path and hiked up over softly rolling hills; not really sure how many hills we would need to cross in order to reach the castle. When the final hill was climbed, the view that lay before us was utterly magical; we looked down into the valley on DunLough castle. DunLough or Dun a Locha, which means the fort of the lake, was built by Donagh an Aimrice O’Mahoney in 1207. A 20-foot high wall connected the towers all the way from a cliff edge to the lake creating a defensive vantage point. Now the castle stands as a ruin, akin to something from a modern-day fantasy.
This remains one of my fondest memories because of the sense of adventure that we shared with our students; it was as if we had just discovered this very special place together.
When Frank and I established Cow House, we were both in our late twenties; we had just finished grad school and were embarking on the adventure of renovating the studios and developing our programming. We had very specific things that we needed to focus on, and in the every-day tasks, we had very specific lists of things to do in order to get our space and our programming up and running.
Over the last 12 years, I have come to realize the interconnected nature of everything we do. Initially, it seemed like all the so many little tasks and details were all separate from each other; one a list to be completed. This is not at all the case because, since we carefully consider every aspect of our guests who stay at Cow House, each detail is connected to the whole experience. Students and artists alike come to Cow House ultimately to make art, but every aspect of their experience can nurture their creative process.
Eating delicious meals, laughing around the dinner table, snuggling with the cats, trips to the local village, overcoming a challenge, sharing a pot of tea, jumping in the pond, hiking the mountain for sunrise, or chatting with my Dad who farms the land; all these varied moments can feed a creative and inquisitive mind in making art.