A museum from the heart of the West Cork community

The ‘Museum of Birds and Beasts’, a new exhibition by Tess Leak and Sharon Whooley, that records local stories and cures from some of West Cork’s older generation that may otherwise be lost, is now on at the LHQ gallery at Cork County Hall, Carrigrohane Road where it will run until Friday, February 24, 2023.  

A collaboration with master basket maker Joe Hogan, the Museum of Country Life, Castlebar, the National Folklore Collection and the residents of five community hospitals in West Cork – Castletownbere, Dunmanway, Schull and Skibbereen Community Hospitals and St. Joseph’s Unit in Bantry General Hospital – the exhibition explores 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 includes local stories and cures, photographs from the National Folklore Collection, artefacts from the Museum of Country Life and handmade nests by Joe Hogan. The artists visited the hospitals with items from the national collections; 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  have lots of stories. Some of them could be a bit true. I was seven or eight when I started milking cows. My mother was a grand singer and when she was milking, she’d sing like a lark.  The Banks of my Old Lovely Lee. When I was 17, the first job I had was for a farmer in Cork. The first thing I had to do each morning was to milk thirteen cows and one morning I could only find twelve. So I brought in twelve cows and stalled them up. There was a passage in the middle of the stall where we’d put a big bucket with the milk from the first two cows and so on. The farmer used to have a little sheepdog and he came into the passage ad stuck his tail into the milk and struck off. Before we had the 12 cows milked, here the sheepdog c comes into the yard, the calf sucking the sheepdogs tail and the cow following the calf. That’s a true enough story!” James Connolly 

“An old cure for sore throat and quinsy was fresh cow dung in a white cloth around the throat.  I know one man and the doctor came to him and there he was sitting with the white cloth and cow dung around his neck when the doctor came in!” Eileen O’Mahony 

“If my father wasn’t there, we would hang his coat behind the cow on the stand of the stall. She would get the smell and think it was my father that was milking her and would give milk more easily. When we finished milking the cows, we would make the sign of the cross on their backs.” Margaret Kelly 

“Our museum-form projects become sites of inclusion, gathering a community’s collective and unique experiences,” share Tess Leak and Sharon Whooley.

“A museum should work in its capacity to reveal the humanity of individuals… In museums we have History, but what we need are stories.” Orhan Pamuk. 

LHQ Gallery is open from 9am-5.30pm, Monday to Friday, excluding Bank Holidays.  The Museum of Birds and Beasts project is delivered through the Arts for Health Partnership Programme in West Cork. 

The project was funded by an Arts Council of Ireland Arts Participation Award.

WCP Staff

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