Climbing Mountains in our Minds, a new collection of poetry, prose and photographs about life in St. Senan’s Hospital, Enniscorthy, will be published this November. The book was commissioned to coincide with ongoing changes to the mental health services in the South-East, which incorporates the closing of St. Senan’s Hospital after more than a hundred and fifty years in operation. Dark, poignant and full of understanding, it is an intimate collection of creative writing and photographs which invites the reader in to the old asylum and gently shines a light on the world that lay within.
The idea for the book came from photographer Rory Nolan and nurse Miriam Lambert, who were both keen that people who use the mental health services would have an opportunity to tell their side of the hospital’s story. In all, twenty-nine writers elected to have their say, particularly keen to make their contribution now that the place is closing. For some, the task was arduous; revisiting traumatic times, writing and rewriting in order to get to a draft they were satisfied with. For others, it was the sunshine they remembered, ordinary moments that meant something special: being bought a coffee on their birthday, waltzing at a Christmas party, or smiling at the sight of a furze bush flourishing where it really shouldn’t.
Writer-Facilitator Sylvia Cullen, who edited the book, described the creative process: ‘Initially, those who chose to take part responded to a selection of photographs, which Rory brought along to the writing workshops. These photos inspired some of the participants who already had a sense of what it was they wanted to say. Others chose a different route, preferring to write their story or poem first and then have a photograph taken in response to that piece of work. The resulting images speak for themselves – hinting at untold stories, weaving together tiny glimpses of life as it was lived in this building.’
Poet Pat Boran, who wrote the foreword, summed up the timeliness of publishing the book now: ‘The work collected in this publication is both a farewell to St. Senan’s Hospital and to the community of people who met and made things together there. It is a reminder of the power of writing to brighten our lives.’
The book is published by Wexford County Council. County Arts Officer Sinéad Barden commented: ‘This publication came about as part of Arts Ability, the programme which celebrates the creative imagination of people in healthcare settings, through participation in high quality arts initiatives. Climbing Mountains in our Minds marks another milestone in this programme, as users of St. Senan’s Hospital consider, then reveal, their thoughts regarding the landmark building.’
Speaking on behalf of Waterford/Wexford Mental Health Services, Hospital Manager Stephanie Lynch spoke about the importance of these stories being published now: ‘As we move towards the closure date of this institution, it is vital that the stories and journeys that its passengers experienced are reflected and recorded…All of this is made possible by the openness of the people who have been brave enough to reflect their personal experiences.’
At 2 p.m. on Thursday, 29 November award-winning performance poet Dave Lordan will launch the book at Killagoley Training and Activation Centre, (K.T.A.C.). This will be followed by live jazz and refreshments as well as an opportunity to meet the writers.
The book costs ten euros and is available in local bookshops. It can also be ordered directly by contacting Mr. Pat Murphy at 053 9233002. All funds raised will be reinvested in the Arts Ability creative writing programme. Further information is available from The Arts Department, Wexford County Council, Carricklawn, Wexford by phoning 053 9196500 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Since 2006, the aim of the Arts Ability creative writing programme has been to give participants the opportunity to explore and develop their creativity through writing. Trying their hand at many different forms and styles, such as memoir, short stories, monologues and poetry, the group has produced a book, a short film and a CD, as well as their current newspaper series A Window to our Words, printed weekly in The Enniscorthy Echo. Giving the K.T.A.C. writers the option to pen their own recollections of hospital life, as part of the creative writing programme, fitted in with the participant-led ethos of Arts Ability.