Image shown: Rural Mayo

Image shown: Hearth artist working with a participant in his home

Image shown: A participant's artwork made via the Hearth programme

Image shown: An artist working with a participant in their own home

Image shown: A participant's artwork made via the Hearth programme


Hearth aims to enable older people who are isolated geographically or otherwise to explore creativity in their own homes using artist quality materials.


Hearth’s inspiration came from the art rooms of five care settings for older people. Deirdre Walsh mentored the artists involved in the Mayo Co Council-HSE Artists Mentoring and Networking Programme which was documented in the publications Creative Reverie and Between Colours.

The idea of extending such a programme into the community took shape in 2008 when Deirdre Walsh and Breda Mayock developed the idea. A three year pilot programme commenced in March 2009. Funding was received from Atlantic Philanthropies and Southwest Mayo Leader which would sustain the project for four years.

The Hearth Co-ordinator, Deirdre Walsh, met with the Community Care Teams which include GPs, Public Health Nurses, Social Workers, and Occupational Therapists. Deirdre presented the programme to them and as a result they introduced Deirdre and Breda to potential participants in the community. In doing this, the artists could reach older people (65+) who were less able or unable to travel, living alone, wheelchair bound, isolated geographically or bereaved.

Three professional artists, Bernie Garvey O’ Mara based in North Mayo, Maggie Morrison in Achill and Breda Murphy in the Ballinrobe area, who had experience in the Mentoring programme are now employed by Hearth. They travel to the homes of an average of six people each on a weekly basis. They liaise with health professionals and family members when necessary. When a participant has gained sufficient confidence the artist may then call every two weeks. The project is based at Ballina Arts Centre where it was launched in 2010.

The programme is continuously developing. It is also a learning process for all those involved. We try to keep it participant led.

Hearth’s key principles include:

  • Participants have weekly visits from a professional artist
  • The participants work in a stress free environment and projects are free of expectation
  • The artists involved have experience working with older people, are Garda vetted and liaise with the public health nurse and family members
  • The artists are mentored by Deirdre Walsh
  • The work is documented
  • Presentation of participants’ work is always professional
  • The possibility of designing suitable art workstations for older people with limited mobility will be considered

Evaluation Methodology

The programme will soon be evaluated. Currently the artists keep journals and Deirdre Walsh visits participants.

Evaluation Outcomes

Hearth has enabled the older people to explore their own creativity with an artist. It is quite obvious that the time they found ‘long’ has been an incubator for loneliness and introspection. The creative work has propelled them to focus on ‘what they can do as opposed to what they can no longer do.’ This was highlighted by Paddy who is a recent stroke victim. He has lost the use of his right arm. He is prolific in painting now – with his left hand. Tearfully he spoke about his shed full of tools that he can no longer use. ‘But now, look what I can do….’ he said.

Engaging with a professional artist is paramount. It is a way of addressing the artist within each individual. They journey together. Education has taken on a broader meaning for Bridie who spent her life as a lecturer. Now in her older years she is embarking on a different journey. It has caused her to reflect on what we call education. ‘It is a seamless garment,she said, ‘I am learning so much through observation.’

It is clear that art in one’s own home is vital in transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary.

Documentation and Dissemination

Hearth featured on RTE Nationwide in September 2010.


The HSE Community Care Team which includes GP’s, Public Health Nurses, Social Workers and Occupational Therapists

Project dates


Lead organisation


Funded By

Atlantic Philanthropies, Southwest Mayo Leader


Bernie Garvin O'Mara, Breda Mayock, Breda Murphy, Deirdre Walsh, Maggie Morrison


Visual Arts

Healthcare context(s)

Older People, Primary Care/ Community Health

Nature of project

Collaborative/ participatory




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