Creative sanctuary to help with grief

December 21st, 2021 7:05 AM

By Southern Star Team

Tess Leak of the Compassionate Culture Network works with groups in Clonakilty and Bantry. (Photo: Anne Minihane)

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West Cork Arts Centre and the Irish Hospice Foundation are part of a new project which invites people to come together and use creativity to make sense of loss, death and bereavement, writes Niamh Hayes

UILLINN: West Cork Arts Centre has teamed up with the Irish Hospice Foundation to be part of the very first Compassionate Culture Network, an initiative which is helping people to talk about and explore death, dying, loss, grief and bereavement through creativity and the arts.

The Irish Hospice Foundation’s focus is that every death matters. The Foundation is working to ensure the best end-of-life care and bereavement care for all, and this is done through education, awareness raising and services including Nurses for Night Care and a Bereavement Support Line.

Dominic Campbell is the Arts and Cultural Engagement Officer with the Irish Hospice Foundation. He says that creativity is incredibly important.

‘When trying to make sense of loss, grief and bereavement, sometimes we can’t find the right words, but a piece of music or art may help us express how we feel,’ says Dominic.

‘In 2016, we carried out a national survey and what became clear was that people in Ireland want more opportunities for talking about death, dying, loss, grief and bereavement.’

Dominic says that death has become much more of a subject of conversation since the pandemic.

‘We are seeing the death figures from Covid-19 daily on the news. The ways that we normally process death, such as wakes and funerals, were taken away from lots of us.’

Dominic and his team took the time during the pandemic to look at what they could do to help people through this process. They wanted to create a space in the community for people to be able to talk about loss and so the Compassionate Culture Network was formed.

Through funding from Creative Ireland, a pilot programme has been rolled out in seven locations around the country. One of these locations is Uillinn: West Cork Arts Centre in Skibbereen, which already has an established Arts for Health programme.

‘Uillinn is delighted to be part of this innovative and progressive national network led by the Irish Hospice Foundation.

‘We are pleased to be working with our Arts for Health partners, Cork Education and Training Board, who helped us bring two groups together in Bantry and Clonakilty, ensuring that we were reaching people who most benefit from the creative experience,’ says Justine Foster, Programme Manager, Uillinn: West Cork Arts Centre.

The Compassionate Culture Network in West Cork is being led by Tess Leak, an inter-disciplinary artist who has collaborated with diverse groups and artists in health, disability and community contexts for over 10 years. Tess works closely with the Arts and Health team at Uillinn, and she is offering this new creative sanctuary in Bantry and Clonakilty.

The participants meet once a week and while some have a creative background, many are exploring their creative side for the first time.


‘I am working with printmaker Mary Callaghan to creatively explore loss together with the group.

‘ We are doing this through haiku inspired poetry, drawing and printmaking,’ says Tess.

Haiku is a poetic form, originating in Japan. It is the process of writing a short poem of three lines with 17 syllables. The subject of the poem is usually connected to the natural world.

‘Haiku is a really lovely form to use with a group. It is a way of grounding with the natural world,’ she said.

In her work with the Arts for Health programme, Tess has worked with lots of groups, including older people in hospital.

They have often lost members of the group and dealt with death, but Tess has never explored death, loss and grief in this way.

‘The focus is on the process of creating, enjoying the process and connecting with the process.’

Tess ran an introductory session in October and the first formal session in November.

‘It is going brilliantly. I am touched by the way the participants are engaging, taking a step into the unknown and seeing if it is possible to explore death, loss and grief through creativity.’

The participants meet once a week in either Bantry or Clonakilty, and while some of them have a creative background, many are exploring art and their creative side for the first time.

‘People are getting joy from the process, they are getting to know each other and supporting each other.’

West Cork based musician and composer Justin Grounds will be working with the network to collectively create music which will go with the haiku poems that participants have written. (Photo: Bríd O’Donovan)


Each week, Tess and Mary are bringing a new form of art to the group, whether that is poetry, drawing with ink or printmaking.

‘We are going to be working with composer Justin Grounds to collectively create music which will go with the haiku poems that participants have written.

‘This will be a lovely piece of art that they can keep themselves or share with their family and friends.’

The current Compassionate Culture Network pilot programme will continue to run until the end of the year with hopes that it will continue and be expanded and opened to new participants in the new year.

For more information, visit or

Contact the Bereavement Support Line on 1800 80 70 77.

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