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Stories of Birds and Beasts are formed into a museum

Donkey Pannier by Joe Horgan

This autumn, artists Tess Leak and Sharon Whooley will be collating stories shared by participants as part of The Museum of Birds and Beasts project, delivered through the Arts for Health programme at Castletownbere, Dunmanway, Schull, Skibbereen Community Hospitals and St. Joseph’s Unit in Bantry General Hospital.

The project began in early spring with a research trip to the Museum of Country Life in Mayo for the artists where they were allowed to chose 18 objects from the handling collection to take into the West Cork hospitals and share with the staff and residents. This collection included a horse blanket and donkey harness both woven out of straw, a lobster pot made out of heather, sugán ropes and a straw and wool ‘favour’ that would have been presented by a shepherd to a potential partner at a dance.

These evocative, beautifully crafted objects sparked many lively conversations between the participants, staff and artists and a collection of stories has been growing throughout the year.

“The donkey would walk into the shop and up to the counter where my dad would give it sugar lumps. The donkey would then turn round and walk out again, and this would happen at the end of every working day, after the donkey had finished its deliveries.”  Sheila, St. Joseph’s Unit, Bantry General Hospital

Master basketmaker Joe Hogan from Lough na Fooey in Mayo visited Dunmanway Community Hospital and St. Joseph’s Unit in May and created small panniers.  The participants were able to watch the baskets ‘grow’ into existence and many conversations were had with Joe as he worked away, sat on the floor of each day room.  These panniers will be presented to the healthcare settings as part of the Museum of Birds and Beasts project

The exhibition of The Museum of Birds and Beasts will take place at Cork County Library Headquarters in January 2023 and will include objects from the Museum of Country Life, photographs from the National Folklore Collection archive and artworks by Joe Hogan along with the collected stories.

The project is funded through an Arts Council Project Award and Arts for Health Partnership Programme, West Cork. The exhibition is supported by Cork County Arts Office.

Images: Straw donkey collar from Museum of Country Life, image credit Kevin O’Farrell
Donkey pannier by Joe Hogan