Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing

Stonecoast in Ireland -The Student Experience

Andy Wales

“All moments in life are full.”

Theo Dorgan, one of Ireland’s finest working writers, said that to a cozy, sun-bathed room full of ten eager Stonecoast students. We lapped up his stories about the Pacific waters lapping the ship he helped sail across the world, ones he told in his acclaimed book Time on the Ocean. Dorgan’s quote answered a question about how he dealt with the “boring” moments on the boat. He had the time to draw on all his past conversations, past images, past experiences. When little happened outside himself, his mind was aflame.

All moments are full during Stonecoast in Ireland. Dingle, Ireland, our summertime host village, offered Old World diversions for those long lunches and evening strolls to dinner. Fish and chips, Guinness pints, Ireland’s famous cloudy skies and green fields. Dingle’s most famous resident is a dolphin. Fungie swam into Dingle Harbor (well, Harbour) in 1983 and hasn’t left since. Perhaps he swims out to sea for afternoon snacks, but when the Dingle Dolphin Boat Tours chug into the harbo(u)r, he’s back. The company refunds money to customers if Fungie doesn’t appear on their hour-long boat tours. They’re still in business. We took the tour on our first day in Dingle, and it was certainly a full moment, watching Fungie ride beside the boat long enough to come up for air eight times. I think he just likes the attention.

The SCI experience lasts one week, shorter than Maine, but doesn’t feel so hectic. Ted and Annie Deppe give students plenty of time to wander, amble, dawdle, or sit by a cup of tea pondering the right synonym. The workshop experience, the program’s most important aspect, mirrors that in Maine, except that the sessions are broken into morning and afternoon halves. The Deppes also seem to know every prominent writer in Ireland, and they invite them to speak to the students each afternoon, over tea of course.

One of SCI’s highlights comes on the off day, when the Deppes lead an excursion to the Great Blasket Island. Say the island’s name just right and people might accuse you of swearing. Great Blasket is one of Ireland’s most remote and imposing landscapes, despite being a twenty-minute boat ride from mainland Ireland. The island’s only habitable part is the eastern edge, which looks as if someone took a giant ice cream scooper to the island’s treeless mound. Dozens of ruined stone houses remain, currently under siege by the land, but people lived in them as late as 1953. Now only sheep and donkeys populate the island, unless you count the 2,000 seals that lay about the shore when tired from swimming.

On the final night all the students read to the public at a Dingle Bookshop, “The westernmost bookshop in Europe” and a charming store run by a polite English woman and her husband, a man who looks like he might have just come from Great Blasket. The student reading caps an entire week of Ireland’s best writers coming together on a bookshop’s small stage. Don’t be shy, because the locals aren’t.

Spend a week in Ireland with the Deppes and you’ll ask if you can stay the next. Share the week with your fellow writers, both the Stonecoast and Irish varieties, and share your work with the Dingle community. And let your moments be full.