The Museum of Birds and Beasts has been co-created by artists Tess Leak and Sharon Whooley with the residents of five community hospitals in West Cork. The artists collaborated with the Museum of Country Life in Mayo and the National Folklore Collection in Dublin, exploring the folklore and artefacts from these remarkable collections to draw on participants’ experiences of working and living in connection with the natural world.
The exhibition includes photographs from the National Folklore Collection, artefacts from the Museum of Country Life and exquisite handmade nests by master basket maker Joe Hogan.
The project began in early spring 2022 with the artists’ research trip to the Museum of Country Life. The artists were invited to choose eighteen objects from the museum’s handling collection to bring into the hospitals and share with the staff and residents; everything from donkey collars and horse blankets to sugán ropes. These evocative, beautifully crafted objects sparked many lively conversations and the resulting collection of stories form the heart of the Museum of Birds and Beasts. For example, participant Sheila Nagle remembers:
My father worked in Biggs’ in Bantry, it was Lyons’ back then. The donkey would walk through the back door into the shop and up to the counter where my dad would give it sugar lumps before it walked out the front door again. This would happen at the end of every working day, after the donkey had finished its deliveries.
As part of the project master basket maker Joe Hogan from Mayo visited Dunmanway Community Hospital and St. Joseph’s Unit Bantry in May 2022 and created small panniers for donkeys. These panniers will be presented to the healthcare settings as part of ‘The Museum of Birds and Beasts’ project.
Our museum-form projects become sites of inclusion, gathering a community’s collective and unique experiences. We were very inspired by the Schools Collection of notebooks which are part of the National Folklore Collection at UCD (duchas.ie). These were compiled by pupils from 5,000 primary schools in the Irish Free State between 1937 and 1939 and were an unquantifiable resource for us, full of fascinating animal and bird stories and cures. The collection at the Museum of Country Life in Castlebar was another wonderfully inspiring place, full to the rafters of items and artefacts to do with rural life in Ireland. – Artists Tess Leak and Sharon Whooley
The exhibition will be launched in LHQ Gallery, Cork County Hall, on 26 January at 6pm by Clodagh Doyle, Curator of the Museum of Country Life, Castlebar, Mayo.
The Museum of Birds and Beasts is funded by an Arts Council of Ireland Arts Participation Project Award. The project is delivered through the Arts for Health Partnership Programme in West Cork at Castletownbere, Dunmanway, Schull and Skibbereen Community Hospitals and St. Joseph’s Unit in Bantry General Hospital. Arts for Health is based in West Cork and provides a managed arts programme for older people in healthcare settings.