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Nests made from Wild Grass

Museum of Birds and Beasts returns with an exhibition at WORKING ARTISTS STUDIO, in Ballydehob (Opening Times: Tuesdays – Saturdays | 11am-4pm) from 11th to 22nd JULY 2023.

Working Artist Studios (WAS) is a highly-regarded, much loved and well-known art centre in Ballydehob, Co. Cork, run by artists for artists and art lovers. It combines studios, a gallery space, a print room and “Outer Space,” a cosy venue for poetry and music evenings, a film club and art happenings, lectures and discussions. A perfect destination to share the Museum of Birds and Beasts, giving audiences in West Cork an opportunity to witness the work that took place in 2022 as part of the Arts for Health Partnership Programme,

The Museum of Birds and Beasts has been co-created by Tess Leak and Sharon Whooley with the residents of five community hospitals in West Cork. The artists collaborated with the Museum of Country Life, the National Folklore Collection and master basket maker Joe Hogan, exploring the folklore and artefacts from these remarkable national collections to draw on participants’ experiences of working and living in connection with the natural world.

The exhibition was first held in County Hall, with the support of Cork County Council and includes photographs from the National Folklore Collection, artefacts from the Museum of Country Life and handmade nests by Joe Hogan. “A museum should work in it’s capacity to reveal the humanity of individuals… In museums we have History, but what we need are stories.” Orhan Pamuk.

The artists were able to visit the hospitals as part of the Arts for Health partnership programme, taking with them  items from the Museum of Country Life’s handling collection; 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. “I had a horse called Kit when I was small on East Skeam island. When we bought her, we swam her over from Cunnamore point. Kit would do all the ploughing for setting potatoes. You’d first have to harrow the ground to break it up. On East Skeam you could hear a mouth organ being played on Heir Island.” Mary Dwyer.

Tess Leak and Sharon Whooley: “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 ( 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.
Joe Hogan’s baskets and hand made nests have both a familiarity and otherness that resonated with the artists and this quote from him was important: “My work is prompted by a desire to develop a deeper connection to the natural world – I want to evoke some of the feelings of joy and wonder which might accompany the finding of nests in the wild.”

The Museum of Birds and Beasts opens on Tuesday 11th July and all are welcome to the exhibition and book launch on Friday 14th July at 5pm. The exhibition continues until Saturday 22nd July 2023.

The Museum of Birds and Beasts project was funded by an Arts Council of Ireland Arts Participation Project Award and the Arts for Health Partnership. It was delivered through the Arts for Health Programme in 2022 at Castletownbere, Dunmanway, Schull and Skibbereen Community Hospitals and St. Joseph’s Unit in Bantry General Hospital with support of the staff.

Arts for Health is based in West Cork and provides a managed arts programme for older people in healthcare settings. Arts for Health partnership is Uillinn West Cork Arts Centre, Cork County Council, Cork Education & Training Board and Cork Kerry Community Healthcare.