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Introducing Something New

A year ago we would have been calling this a Book Launch, today instead we are introducing readers and participants to something new to experience in your own time and in your own home, a pleasure of a different kind – Volume One The Museum of Song Postal Project Songbook, the sharing of this first volume happily coincides with a scaling up of the project to include new participants in the project.

In March 2020, Artists Tess Leak and Sharon Whooley re-imagined their already planned Museum of Song, into a postal project with residents of Skibbereen, Dunmanway and Schull Community Hospitals and Bantry St. Joseph’s Unit. A few months into the project as the weather and restrictions took a temporary lift, Tess and Sharon took inspiration from the Italian balcony opera singer. They decided to incorporate an aspect of outdoor live music into the Project. Tess and Sharon enlisted the talents of West Cork based opera singer Camilla Griehsel to deliver a series of performances for the staff and residents outside the Community Hospitals in West Cork. Camilla is another wonderful human being who had teamed up with the Arts for Health team many times before to perform for residents all over West Cork. Beginning in her home village of Schull but continuing across West Cork, Camilla performed specially chosen songs gathered by Tess.

‘We had a beautiful session with Camilla and Tess on Friday,’ described the Director of Nursing at Schull Community Hospital, Róisín Walsh. ‘The residents were thrilled with the occasion. They emerged into the sunlight uncertain and very quiet you could hear a pin drop. When the music started and Camilla sang that first beautiful haunting song I looked at their faces and they were so focused on her, there was a sense of a new beginning almost. When she began singing all the voices began to join in and so it went. They did not want the afternoon to end. A very emotional experience for those of us who were fortunate to have been in attendance.’

So well received was the approach, new participants were invited to the project at Castletownbere Community Hospital , the community of Drimoleague, the four valleys in Bantry and with thanks to further support from Creative Ireland we reached West Cork islands: Sherkin, Bere, Whiddy, Oileán Chléire, Long, Dursey and Heir slowly knitting together a county-wide conversation. ‘The Museum of Song was a means to connect  and reach out  in a time of no face to face meetings. The participants were delighted to  be asked to contribute and share their songs,’  Anne Harrington, Social Coordinator, The 4 Valleys Social Club.

The Museum of Song Postal Project has proven to be hugely successful in engaging older people who have been isolated by the pandemic and this week is being scaled up to engage with older residents in new parts of West Cork from Beara, Dunmanway, Skibbereen and Sheeps Head. To date nearly a hundred older people and healthcare staff have engaged with the project and interest is still growing,  “We have received some wonderfully detailed responses and have collected nearly 200 songs with special meaning from our participants so far,’ describes artist Tess Leak, who has been working with Arts for Health for nearly ten years.

This new proposed strand of the project will run over two months beginning from mid-February 2021 when the artists will send out a themed package that includes an introductory letter, song lyrics, a poem and a postcard to each participant, initially via the group coordinator and then as people share their addresses with the artists they will post them directly. There will be 4 mail outs in total, each two weeks apart with the final one as a thank you for taking part. Previous themes included ‘Songs of Our Mothers and Fathers’, ‘Songs of Leaving and Returning’, ‘Songs of Spring’, ‘Flower Songs’, ‘The Most Beautiful Voice’ and ‘Songs of the Land’ each provoking recollection and new conversation A stamped addressed envelope was also included, along with a response sheet encouraging people to share with the artists their favourite songs relating to the theme. Some participants sent back lists of songs and others shared stories relating to one of the songs. Musician Liz Clark recorded a selection of songs in three video episodes, in a continuation of The Museum Of Song Postal Project and these were played at each of the Community Hospitals for residents to hear back. Each episode explores a different theme. Here is a link to episode 1: ‘Songs of Our Mothers and Fathers’

Programme Manager, Justine Foster, explains ‘There is so much community interest in this project and with the support of our funders and partners we look forward to welcoming more people as part of the project this year and continuing this conversation through correspondence. The artists also have plans to make a real museum for a time when we can all go see and share in the wonderful collection.’ Not to be held back by our current restrictions, the visionary artists, Tess and Sharon are also planning to realise the museum for safer times when people can go to a place to see and experience the collection.

The Museum of Song Postal Project lent itself so well to these unprecedented times. It was meaningful because it helped us keep connected and gave us a routine. Because of the nature of the project it could include anyone who chose to partake, at any level of involvement, without putting pressure on me/the staff to take over the art session. Residents had nothing for four months, no family, friends, priests, outings or community, and for each day that the news brought fear and dread this project brought us connection and into our own community.’ – Sarah Cairns, Activities Coordinator, St. Joseph’s Unit, Bantry General Hospital.

There is plenty more to read on this project here in a series of previous blog posts where you can follow the themes of each mailout, and a case study can be found on

The Museum of Song Postal Project is part of Arts for Health Partnership Programme, managed by Uillinn West Cork Arts Centre with HSE, Cork Education & Training Board and Cork County Council. Local project partners are HSE Cork Kerry Community Healthcare Community Work Department, Four Valleys Social Group, Caha Centre, West Cork Travellers, Dunmanway Family Resource Centre, West Cork Cancer Connect and West Cork Island Development. The project has received funding through a special purpose award from National Lottery in 2021 and by Cork County Council through the Creative Ireland Programme in 2020. Uillinn West Cork Arts Centre is supported by the Arts Council.