Monday, March 13, 2023

Waterford Healing Arts Trust announced the launch of Réalta, the National Body for Arts + Health in Ireland at the HSE-RCSI Educational Facility, University Hospital Waterford. Pictured are Prof. Kevin Rafter, Chairperson of the Arts Council, Grace O’Sullivan, MEP and Patron of Waterford Healing Arts, Grace Rothwell, General Manager UHW, Christopher Bailey, World Health Organisation, Claire Meaney, Waterford Healing Arts Trust, Dr Abdul Bulbulia and Catherine Drea, Chairperson, Waterford Healing Arts. Trust Photo: Patrick Browne


As I See It: Catherine Drea’s fortnightly column as published in the Waterford News & Star


AT some point in your life, you will be ill, confined to bed or admitted to hospital. None of us think about these possibilities until suddenly we are there, vulnerable, unable to live our normal lives or at the very worst separated from our loved ones and waking up in a hospital ward.

Stripped of our usual clothes, removed from our familiar surroundings, hospital will be a challenge for most of us. I remember well when I spent five days attached to a drip in a breezy corridor in UHW. I was longing to wander, to put shoes on, and to just hug someone.

Some of us will live with long term illnesses or disabilities which challenge our resilience every day. Others will be carers or medical professionals equally challenged to hold out hope and remain upbeat, even when your feet are killing you and all you want to do is go home.


‘All of us can be mighty proud that 30 years after Dr. Abdul Bulbulia and the late Mary Baxter set up Waterford Healing Arts Trust, the rest of the country will benefit from the learning’


What helps us to cope when we are ill and what brightens our days when we are confined by circumstances? Besides great nursing care and medicine, there is growing evidence of the importance of creativity in health settings and in community based care. The strong message is that art, writing, dance, music and all forms of creativity can have positive impacts on health. Participation in creativity also has been shown to help to support the physical, mental, and social aspects of ageing.

When I was a patient myself in UHW, I would hobble down to the nearest painting, which was a wonderful portrait of the artist Louis le Brocquy painted by Robert Ballagh. It’s strange when you are in hospital what will grab your attention, especially when there isn’t anything else to distract. Since I am also a voluntary board member of Waterford Healing Arts Trust I have learned a lot more about the magic of bringing arts experiences, like music, poetry, storytelling, art, to the bedside of patients. It goes way beyond the beautiful art collection.

In the Waterford Healing Arts, based in UHW, the aim is to reduce anxiety, stress and loneliness and to bring joy through creative activity. This work is not ‘therapy’, but it is lifting spirits, reducing isolation and bringing light and hope at what can be a difficult time in a person’s life.

Because of 30 years of Waterford Healing Arts Trust, many patients have been able to experience the pure joy of music or creative making, just because the opportunity was presented. Maybe they availed of the Art Kart, the Storytelling Project in the Paediatric Ward, the Healing Sounds music at their bedside, the poetry and dance in the Psychiatric Unit. In recent times with Covid restrictions there have been additional innovations so a project called Art at the Kitchen Table was developed for those who are either house bound or who have additional needs.

Some of my own friends, like the late Anna Moore from Tramore, who was hospitalised for months with a rare illness, developed her practice as a painter during her long stay there thanks to support from Waterford Healing Arts Trust. Another dear friend, Kate Quinn, who we sadly lost recently, also found her creative streak through photography and writing while hooked up to dialysis machines three times a week. Amongst other work, Kate produced two books, had a joint photography exhibition as part of the Imagine Arts Festival and installed her own images in the hospital through commissions from Waterford Healing Arts Trust and with support from artist Phillip Cullen. This was arts and health in practice.

There is a unique love of creativity in Waterford. At every level, from community arts to the professional fields, there is a wonderful history and a vibrant arts scene. Alongside the more well-known arts organisations, theatres, galleries and creative individuals, there is now yet another area where Waterford is leading; the field of arts and health.

Last week, at a luminous launch in UHW, Waterford Healing Arts Trust made another big leap in its development by launching Réalta, the National Body for Arts and Health in Ireland. Yes, Waterford is now the home of this national organisation, a huge achievement and recognition of expertise and best practice! While maintaining Waterford Healing Arts (re-branded from Waterford Healing Arts Trust) as an example for the rest of the country on how to deliver arts and health, the new overarching organisation will focus on sharing inspiration, training and best practice for other hospitals and healthcare settings, arts and health workers, and those who are interested in this growing field. The beautiful new logo of Réalta is based on a star (réalta in Irish) and captures the purpose of the work which is to “illuminate health paths”.

All of us can be mighty proud that 30 years after Dr. Abdul Bulbulia and the late Mary Baxter set up Waterford Healing Arts Trust, the rest of the country will benefit from the learning and the practice through Réalta. Congratulations to Réalta, long may your light shine!


Catherine Drea blogs at

By Catherine Drea
Contact Newsdesk: 051 874951

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