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On the Wireless podcast: Creativity & reminiscence in older age

8 min read

On the Wireless podcast: Creativity & reminiscence in older age

8 min read


On the Wireless podcast: Creativity & reminiscence in older age

You mightn’t think that an old kitchen dresser, a much-anticipated library book or a song learned several decades ago have much in common but the remarkable On the Wireless podcast spools an intricate thread.

Produced by Tadgh Ó Meachair and Joanna Hyde in association with Cork County Council and Creative Ireland, this five-episode series of conversations about creativity and reminiscence in older age spotlights the importance of creative expression and the many ways we can nurture it. 

From the literary lifeline that is the Cork Mobile Library and the importance of music, recitation and memory in care home settings, to beloved objects that house stories of family and childhood, and vital, long-held practices that help us reflect on loss, all manner of creative connection is represented from older people’s perspectives.

Above: Seán, the Cork Mobile Library driver

“There’s plenty of time for everybody” 

Community connections are the ties that bind in Episode 1 as local experiences with the Cork Mobile Library, particularly elder members, are revealed.

After 15 years working with the Cork Mobile Library, Zillah Ni Loideoin, senior library assistant at Cork County Council Library & Arts Service, sums up how the service goes far beyond satisfying a reader’s love for books. 

“You actually really care about them because you’ve gotten to know them for so long […] you build up a rapport with somebody when you’re seeing them every two weeks […] even when we were in lockdown, you’d be phoning them every couple of weeks to see how they were getting on.”

Performing a social function as much as a cultural one, for older library users in particular the routine of interacting with Séan, the mobile library driver, is just as anticipated as the reading material. “There’s plenty of time for everybody” says Seán, acutely aware that many elderly members may not have had a visitor for some time.

Listen to Episode 1

“A little bit of positivity and connection”

In Episode 2, Jimmy Crowley and Eve Telford’s musical tour of Cork care homes brought the power of song, music and reminiscence to an appreciative audience. “The residents were so happy,” remarked Mary Lou Leahy, activities coordinator at Skibbereen Residential Care Centre. “You could see by their faces – the clapping, we had tears of joy during some of the songs. It was just lovely for everybody really.” 

Maeve Mulrennan, assistant arts officer at Cork County Council, explained that the aim of the performances was “to try and bring a little bit of positivity and connection in. Just as places were starting to open up, older people were among the first to be vaccinated in Ireland so they were the first ones that could welcome the arts back in person, back into their nursing homes and community hospitals”.

On foot of Crowley and Telford’s inspiring performances of old favourites and traditional tunes, one resident also spoke to Tadgh and Joanna about his favourite poem, reciting it word perfect, 80-odd years after learning it in childhood.

Listen to Episode 2

Above: Cork Mobile Library member

Arts for Health

From collaborative projects like the favourite poem of a Schull Hospital resident set to music by a violinist/composer over Zoom, to reimagining the Spanish lullaby one resident’s father used to play her as a child, Episode 3 features musical and poetic excerpts from Arts for Health’s innovative and often poignant programmes. 

This West Cork-based arts programme for older people devised the pandemic-friendly projects Bringing Art Home and Museum of Song, which primarily invited participants to engage via post but also used Zoom sessions, concerts and recordings to create connections, boost wellbeing and share participants’ beloved songs, treasured memories and self-penned poems:

“Long ago when I was young and barely in my teens

I rambled ‘round the hedgerows and the fields so fresh and green

My siblings too, along with me

We always had such fun

And ran around the farm to the setting of the sun”

Listen to Episode 3

Above: The Irish Dresser Project. Credit: Michael Fortune

Part of the furniture

Memories of family, domesticity and childhood spring to life in Episode 4 as the unique role of the Irish kitchen dresser is explored. Artist and folklorist Michael Fortune of The Dresser Project provides a potted history of this curiously Irish item of furniture and its once central role in daily life. 

With its importance stemming from a time when homes had very little furniture, the dresser would hold everything from cups, basins and bowls, to lanterns, bills, knitting patterns and even, in some larger versions, geese and hens and their store of freshly-laid eggs. 

Laced with family history and a mark of real pride if made by a family member, one podcast participant describes the importance of the dresser his father crafted as a teen in the 1940s. In later life while suffering with dementia, seeing the dresser in the home would ground his father and provide a sense of place at a time when he couldn’t always remember where he was.

As older participants recount their own vivid memories, Irish country furniture expert Davoc Rynne also details the symbolism of the dresser and its place in every element of life, from dresser-shaking dances in the kitchen to spooky storytelling sessions.

Listen to Episode 4

Artist Toma McCullim

"We need to have more creative conversations about the way that older people live in our society and how best to have them fully integrated into our cultural lives"

“We shared songs and sung together”

The final episode of On the Wireless explores the traditional practices around loss and an artistic adaptation of the custom of keening.

“A vocal practice consisting of improvised laments and wailing cries”, keening or the caoineadh, as explained by sound artist Michelle Collins, used to be carried out by The Bean Chaointe or keening women, who were highly skilled artists and integral to the community. “They were poets, singers, improvising the poetry of the lament – on the spot […] through their voice and body, The Bean Chaointe experienced and expressed the painful emotions of the family and community.”

Old man looks out window

Collins led residents of Marymount University Hospital and Hospice in an exploration of loss, grief, reflection, and remembrance through special lament and keening/caoineadh workshops. Supported by the Irish Hospice Foundation in conjunction with Cork County Council, this unique seed project was conducted during the height of the COVID-19 lockdown.

In this episode Collins details her experience of working remotely with some of Marymount’s long-term residents in examining keening as a mechanism for reflecting on grief, loss, and bereavement and how memories of old traditions around grieving, funeral practices and loss emerged.

“The ‘art’ was in the conversation,” says Michelle, the true outcome of the work being the conversations that came about and the lasting connections then forged between staff and residents during the process, as staff were so integral in facilitating this sensitive, remote project.

This episode also features contributions from Arts for Health artist Toma McCullim, who reveals her experience of working with and supporting older LGBTQ+ members of the community.

“We need to have more creative conversations about the way that older people live in our society and how best to have them fully integrated into our cultural lives.”

Listen to Episode 5


Produced by Tadgh Ó Meachair and Joanna Hyde in association with Cork County Council and Creative Ireland, listen to all five episodes of On the Wireless.

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