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Cork County Council’s first exhibition of 2023 ‘The Museum of Birds and Beasts’ will open on Thursday January 26th in the LHQ Gallery at Cork County Hall. The exhibition has been co-created by artists Tess Leak and Sharon Whooley with the residents of five community hospitals in West Cork.

The artists collaborated with the Museum of Country Life in Mayo and the National Folklore Collection in Dublin, exploring the artefacts from these collections to draw on participants’ experiences of the natural world. The exhibition will be launched by Clodagh Doyle, curator of the Museum of Country Life, Castlebar, Mayo and will include objects from these collections along with exquisite handmade nests by master basket maker Joe Hogan; all of these items inspired the resulting collection of stories which form the heart of ‘The Museum of Birds and Beasts’

Mayor of the County of Cork, Cllr. Danny Collins welcomed the announcement saying:

This exhibition, drawn from The Museum of Birds and Beasts project, is a celebration of the innovative arts and health work by Tess Leak and Sharon Whooley and also the ongoing Arts for Health programme in West Cork. The stories, museum artefacts and artworks will resonate with many and I would encourage all those with an interest in this area to visit the exhibition at LHQ Gallery.

The project began in early spring 2022 with the artists’ research trip to the Museum of Country Life in Mayo. The artists were invited to choose eighteen objects from the museums “handling collection” to bring into West Cork hospitals and share with the staff and residents. This collection included a horse blanket and donkey harness both woven out of straw and a lobster pot made out of heather. These beautifully crafted objects sparked many lively conversations between the participants, staff and artists and a collection of stories grew throughout the year.

One of the participants, Sheila Nagle, reminisced:

My father worked in Biggs’ in Bantry. The donkey would walk through the back door into the shop and up to the counter where my dad would give it sugar lumps before it walked out the front door. This would happen at the end of every working day, after the donkey had finished its deliveries.

As part of the project master basket maker Joe Hogan from Mayo visited Dunmanway Community Hospital and St. Joseph’s Unit Bantry in May 2022 and created small panniers for donkeys.  These panniers will be presented to the healthcare settings as part of ‘The Museum of Birds and Beasts’ project.

‘The Museum of Birds and Beasts’ project is delivered through the Arts for Health Partnership Programme in West Cork at Castletownbere, Dunmanway, Schull and Skibbereen Community Hospitals and St. Joseph’s Unit in Bantry General Hospital. The project is funded through an Arts Council of Ireland Project Award. The exhibition is supported by Cork County Council.

The exhibition opens at 6.00pm on Thursday 26th January and continues until 23rd February 2023. LHQ is open from 9.00am to 5.30pm, Monday to Friday, excluding Bank Holidays. 


Tess Leak is an artist and musician who often collaborates with composers, dancers, poets and puppeteers. She has been working on the Arts for Health team since 2010, developing a multi-disciplinary approach to participation. In 2019 she collaborated with puppeteer Eoin Lynch, composer Justin Grounds and participants in St. Joseph’s Unit, Bantry General Hospital to create Stories from the Well-Field. Funded by an Arts Council of Ireland Arts Participation Award, this interactive performance brought to life poems about enduring childhood friendships. Tess is a graduate of the Curious School of Puppetry in London and co-curator of the Museum of Miniature which completed a tour of 7 off-shore Islands in 2017 and The Museum of Making and Mending co-created with Arts for Health Participants. She plays the cello with the Vespertine Quintet.   

Sharon Whooley is a filmmaker based in Baltimore in West Cork.  One half of Harvest Films, she has been working in film in Ireland since 2000.  Since 2014, she has directed her own film works; ‘Nettle Coat’ based on Alice Maher’s work of the same name. ‘Imogen Stuart’, a short observational film on German-Irish sculptor Imogen Stuart.  ‘Fathom’ with Pat Collins, a mediation on time and thinking filmed on the Fastnet lighthouse and most recently, ‘Distance’, a film on time in a specific place, Glenbride in Co. Wicklow. All films were funded by the Arts Council of Ireland.  Her films have screened at film festivals in Ireland and internationally.  She is also a script-writer with Pat Collins and Eoghan Mac Giolla Bhríde on ‘Silence’ and ‘Song of Granite’ and they are currently writing ‘The Aran Islands’ based on JM Synge’s book of the same name.