Dialysis unit captures ‘ephemeral moments’


A cake decorator’s paper sculptures on a limestone floor, primroses over crisp linen and china cups, and a ward bed transformed into a “magic room”: this is the flavour of creations by patients and staff at the dialysis unit in Merlin Park Hospital at an exhibition all month at the Galway Arts Centre.

A box-player’s songs from Connemara, insights into the art of fly-tying and digital embroidery of the Kinvara-to-Salthill coastline are also represented in the display, A Swallow’s Tale in a Thousand Skies.

Medical professionals from Merlin Park, which is part of Galway University Hospitals, joined friends and family of the 11 patients and two staff who participated in the project for the opening by GUH arts officer Margaret Flannery and nephrologist Dr David Lappin.

Carna-born musician Colm Walshe, who began dialysis in November 1972 and has had two kidney transplants, said he was delighted by the reaction to the exhibition.

He paid credit to the “magician”, Scottish artist Marielle MacLeman, who had transcribed some of his songs for the book.

The year-long project was funded by the Arts Council and facilitated by MacLeman, who spent 12 months working with patients attending three and four times a week for dialysis.

“You are spending so many hours of your life in hospital that it’s wonderful to have an opportunity like this,” said participant Siobhán Connolly of Clarenbridge. Connolly met her partner, Gerry Wallace from Gort, in the Merlin Park unit.

The Arts Council’s arts participation project award aims to mirror projects in other haemodialysis units, where the benefits of integrating such activities have been well proven.

Such was the enthusiasm with which patients responded to MacLeman’s gentle requests – “Would you like to paint?” – that the Merlin Park unit’s waiting area was refurbished initially, using some of the designs.

“The project never set out to create a book, but from the conversations in the unit and interactions, it seemed the most logical way of capturing the ephemeral moments between patients and staff,” she says.

Tributes were paid at the opening to angler Aidan Garvey, who died only days before the opening. Samples of some of his many fly-ties form part of the exhibition and book.

Also central to the exhibition is Margaret Warde’s “magic room”, in which she “dressed dialysis” with woodland designs on bed linen, employing “colour in industrious outbursts”, as MacLeman puts it.

A Swallow’s Tale in a Thousand Skies
runs until August 31st. The Magician and the Swallow’s Tale is on sale at €10 and will be circulated to renal dialysis centres.