Image shown: Poet Penelope Shuttle with her poem 'Faust' chosen by Dennis O’Driscoll.

Image shown: Poet Penelope Shuttle with her poem 'Faust' chosen by Dennis O’Driscoll.

Anne Smyth

Anne Smyth

Sheila Gardiner and Nuala Cahalan

Sheila Gardiner and Nuala Cahalan

Clinical Placement Co-ordinators at GUH

Clinical Placement Co-ordinators at GUH

attending the Poems for Patience launch at University Hospital Galway 2014. Photograph by David Ruffles.

attending the Poems for Patience launch at University Hospital Galway 2014. Photograph by David Ruffles.


The aim of Poems for Patience is to provide access to poetry for patients, their families, staff, visitors and the wider hospital community. Waiting areas are used by patients and their loved ones on a daily basis, in outpatient clinics, going for scans, x-rays and other tests as inpatients.

The partnership with Cúirt International Festival of Literature allows for the hospital community to access a variety of high calibre poetry from local, national and international poets as well as to discover new poetry.

In 2013, GUHAT introduced an annual poetry competition, giving a platform for up and coming poets to showcase their work alongside established international poets.


Poems for Patience was established in 2004 when the Arts Committee in Galway University Hospitals partnered with Cúirt International Festival of Literature. The poems are presented in a framed poster format on the Arts Corridor of University Hospital Galway and then displayed in waiting areas in Galway’s public hospitals.

For the first two years, poetry with a West of Ireland theme was selected by Patrick Finnegan, the Arts Committee Chairperson.

Since 2006, a poet reading at Cúirt has been invited to select twenty-one poems; twenty for the waiting areas and one for the light box in the lift area of University Hospital Galway.

The theme is left open to the poet making the selection each year. However, they are advised of the following:

  • The posters will be read by people waiting for an appointment or family members waiting for a loved one. People whose emotions are already intensified. We ask the selector to be mindful of this.
  • Explicit medical and health issues are best avoided.
  • Variety is essential. Over 273 poems have been displayed in the waiting areas of University Hospital Galway and Merlin Park University Hospital to date.
  • Once the selection is made, GUH Arts Committee and key front line staff review the selection and can ask the selector to consider a different poem if one is deemed unsuitable.

The selector is asked to choose:

  • Poems with a maximum of 36 lines as this is a good fit for the A0 size poster and and a short enough length for people in waiting rooms to read;
  • The poem for the lightbox with a maximum of 72 lines.

Once the poetry is approved, GUHAT contacts the publishers for permission to reproduce the poem. The poetry is then sent to the designer, along with the acknowledgement line and a short biography of the poet with details of their most recent or well-known publications.

Artistic Outputs

During the Cúirt International Festival of Literature there is a formal launch where the selector introduces their selection. It is one of the most well-attended outreach events of the Cúirt Festival with the poetry displayed on the arts corridor of UHG (the main exhibition area) and afterwards disseminated to the various waiting rooms in UHG and MPUH. For example, a poem on becoming a new parent could be placed in the antenatal waiting room.

In 2013, an annual poetry competition was introduced giving an up and coming poet the opportunity to display their poem alongside the selection. The winner, chosen by resident poet Kevin Higgins, is asked to read the poem at the Poems for Patience launch.

In 2015, GUHAT managed the Menu of Poems project for National Poetry Day and a selection from Naomi Shihab Nye’s Poems for Patience series was included. In 2016, three poems from Colette Bryce’s selection will be disseminated to patients in hospitals all over the country. In this way the project continues to grow and gain a wider audience.

Evaluation Methodology

Monitoring of the project is ongoing and managed by GUHAT.

A guest book is placed in the exhibition area where feedback from patients, staff and visitors is recorded.

Meetings between the Artistic Director of the Cúirt Festival, Dani Gill, and Project Manager, Margaret Flannery, take place to reflect on the previous series and plan for the following one. Regular meetings with hospital staff are also held to seek feedback on poetry content.

A report for project partners is completed at the end of each series.

Evaluation Outcomes

Feedback from participating selectors, poets, staff, patients and visitors is very positive. From this feedback we’ve learned that the project does take people’s minds off their worries and illness and that it has been successful in bringing poetry to new audiences. Seasoned Cúirt attendees have stated it is one of the highlights of the festival.

Some comments include:

Poems – no matter their topics or styles – have a beautiful power to pull in our meandering thoughts and soothe. To feel the mind recompose itself can be clarifying, uplifting, comforting. It is a gift to discover poems sometimes where we are not expecting to find them, in a subway, a newspaper – even hand-printed on a wall. Nothing need cloud poetry’s subtle presence for listeners or readers – the simple enjoyment of tasting and savoring words, images, ideas, connections, belongs to us all.’ – Naomi Shihab Nye, poetry selector 2015

I have … opted for poems that would give me pause for reflection, and space for hope (a word they invoke more than once), were I to make my way along the corridor – as a bouquet-bearing visitor, or as a patient hobbling over to radiography in my plaid dressing gown and slippers. I wanted to highlight poems which would not dissemble, or dodge the big questions, but that would not make heavy weather of them either; songs of experience that are nimble on their feet, and quickly grasped, but which offer profound and permanent insights nonetheless. The poems I have chosen may not be ‘prescribed’ (in either the medical or the schoolroom sense), but I believe they are healing in their own subtle way.’ – Dennis O’Driscoll, poetry selector 2011

What lovely work you do, giving poetry to those who might need it. A beautiful thing!‘ – Participating poet Noel Crook, Texas

Lovely event …. I feel the spirit of Dennis O’Driscoll here today.‘ – Attendee at launch

Great choice of poems‘ – Staff member

It is great to be able to stop for a minute and forget everything and share in a silent way with the world’  – Patient

Pleasure to read while waiting’ – Patient

Wonderful collection to ease the mind of even the most inpatient patient!‘ – Patient

Documentation and Dissemination

Project manger Margaret Flannery from GUHAT documents the whole process for each series and reports to the hospital arts committee and project partners on a monthly basis from the beginning of the process in the autumn of the previous year until the series is complete and displayed in the waiting rooms the following May.

There are currently over 100 poems available in waiting rooms throughout UHG and MPUH for patients and visitors to engage with.

Over 3,000 people attend GUH on a daily basis and have an opportunity to view the poetry.

Three to four poems have been used on the Arts and Health Co-ordinators Ireland Menu of Poems initiative since 2015, opening up a wider hospital audience. In 2015, 9000 Menus were disseminated on meal trays and 11,000 will be circulated in 2016. A downloadable copy will be available from

The project is covered in the local media annually during the Cúirt Festival and has also been covered by national press.

The event is also advertised on partner websites Cúirt and Poetry Ireland.


Cúirt International Festival of Literature
Galway City Council
Poetry Ireland
Galway University Hospitals
Saolta University Health Care Group

Project dates

2004 to present

Lead organisation

Galway University Hospitals Arts Trust

Funded By

Galway University Hospitals Arts Trust, Cúirt International Festival of Literature, Saolta University Health Care Group,  Galway City Council, Poetry Ireland


Ciaran Carson, Colette Bryce, Dennis O’Driscoll, Fiona Sampson, Matthew Sweeney, Michael O’Gorman, Naomi Shihab Nye, Patrick Finnegan, Paula Meehan, Philip Schultz, Theo Dorgan, Vona Groarke



Healthcare context(s)

Acute Hospitals, Maternity Hospitals, Mental Health, Older People

Nature of project





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