Boole Library Exhibition February – August  2023

The ‘Catching Stories’ exhibition was held at the Boole Library in University College Cork from February 16th to August 28th, 2023. The exhibition prioritized human voices through audio installations, links to interviews, and interaction with physical objects.      

When we started the Catching Stories project, we never anticipated where the year would take us. Our initial goal was to gather the stories of people affected by polio, TB, measles, and diphtheria and combine them with biomedical information to create an online resource highlighting the impact of infectious diseases on families and communities. However, the project exceeded our expectations when we took the opportunity to create a physical exhibition based on the resource in University College Cork’s Boole Library exhibition space. We soon realised that putting together this, our first exhibition was a challenging task. Despite this, we decided to let the stories emerging from the oral testimony guide us.

We understood that the exhibition would contain a lot of textual information, so we aimed to incorporate interactive elements to make the experience more engaging. We wanted audio to play a significant role but were unsure of the best approach. We were fortunate to be introduced to Jeffery Weeter from the UCC Dept of Music. Jeff listened to our ideas and suggestions and used his expertise to create two interactive audio installations.

James Furey, Clíona O'Carroll and Jeffery Weeter

Interactive Audio Elements

The first installation allowed visitors to experience the story of student doctor Paul O’Brien, who assisted in ventilating polio patients during the 1956 epidemic in Cork City. Visitors had to squeeze the ventilator to hear Paul’s account, creating a powerful and immersive experience. The second installation was an “arse-activated” bench, where visitors could hear the story of Joe Scanlon’s memorable visit to the Grattan Street Medical Centre as a child.

Art Works

Additionally, the exhibition featured moving artwork by one of our interviewees, Lesley Cox. Lesley’s father had suffered from polio at a young age, and she generously allowed us to showcase her work depicting the impact of the disease on his life.


Measuring Success

Opening night saw over a one hundred people in attendance. Throughout the six months that the exhibition was in situ thousands of people visited. Through our feedback book and the post-it note wall the project received countless positive responses. This Culminated in the exhibition being re-purposed by the Health Services Executive, and brought to St Mary’s Primary Care Centre, Cork City, in October 2023 to mark the launch of the HSE’s winter vaccination drive. Since then, it has toured multiple HSE locations, and is still touring in June 2024.

Previous Events

Celebrate Science Family Day 13th November 2022

Dr Beth Brint explaining infectious disease to a captive audience

Our first outing for Cork Science Festival was at the ‘Celebrate Science’ Family Day at University College Cork’s Western Gateway Building. For this event, we fired up the ‘Time-machine’ to bring participants on a trip to 1958, the day Joe Scanlon received a vaccine, or as Joe calls it, ‘The Branding Iron’.

Dr Cliona O'Carroll adds levity to the proceedings

The Catching Stories team held four sessions. We played Joe’s story and quizzed our audience on their knowledge of infectious diseases and their memory of receiving vaccines. There was excellent engagement with both young and old. The younger participants left with a greater understanding of diseases like polio and tuberculosis. And the older members relayed their stories of getting vaccinated and how infectious diseases had encroached on their lives.

Catching Stories Banner with next to excited child


Culture Night 19th September 2022

Our pop-up Culture Night event has been the highlight so far. The team donned their white coats and set up a ‘time travelling’ vaccination clinic outside the old medical centre on Grattan St Cork City. Willing participants sat on a bench and heard Joe Scanlon’s story of receiving the ‘Branding Iron’, Joe’s term for the vaccine apparatus used in the 1950s. Joe’s story, and the event elicited a great response from those who took part.

Heritage Week 19th August 2022 Listening Event.

We had an incredibly successful Heritage Week talk in Cork City Library Grand Parade. This was the first real outing for the team to present the project, and we couldn’t have been happier with the turnout and the response. The event consisted of a presentation of audio collected to this point along with contextual information from project coordinator James Furey.


Less than a week into the project, we had the opportunity to outline the project to the School of Irish Learning at UCC. It was great to start on such a positive note. We got a great response from the attendees, who shared their stories of their families’ past encounters with infectious diseases. 

Here is a link to the recording of the seminar. 


Feed back from our events

‘This resource is unique – it marries public health and cultural heritage very well, a mixture of old and new stories. This adds value to typical public health reporting, by relaying the personal experiences of real people – ordinary people – anecdotal evidence to supplement the statistics we generally see – it is a great piece of work.’

-Denise Cahill, Cork Healthy Cities Coordinator

Project coordinator James Furey giving talk at Cork City Library for Heritage Week 2022
Dr Beth Brint explaining infectious disease to a captive audience