DeValera’s Ireland: Art Therapy Project

DeValera’s Ireland was written and voiced by Seamus Ruttledge. It was facilitated, recorded, and arranged by Padraig Stevens.

The artists wish for their work to be published alongside the Tuam Oral History Project as it is survivor led and a creative response to life in a Mother & Baby institution, inspired by the artistic community in Tuam.


About the Project – A note from the artists

DeValera’s Ireland is an audio art therapy project created by Seamus Ruttledge and Padraig Stevens that attempts to honour the unheard voices from dark times in Irish history for unwed Mothers and their Children. It is also an exploration of memory, using purely artistic forms. In this art therapy project poetry, song, music, and biography of place are used to retrieve lost memory. It is a journey into a world of shadows for the purpose of revealing lost and unexpressed parts of the self, to help create a healing space.

While Seamus Ruttledge has written poetry and spoken word pieces over many years, about the orphan life and the legacy of life in religious institutions, it was a chorus from a song that Padraig Stevens was writing called Listen to The Lives of the Little Ones that set the tone for DeValera’s Ireland. It was a motivation to write this project and give voice to the child Joseph McEvey.

The title DeValera’s Ireland was chosen to allow this difficult subject-matter to be framed in an historical context. The reason to do the audio art therapy project and tell the story through strictly artistic forms, was to allow people listen to “the lives of the little ones” in non-judgemental language.

The artistic disciplines of poetry, spoken word, and song, seemed the best tools to allow this to happen.

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Inspiration and Ackowledgements

Seamus Ruttledge’s poetry and spoken word pieces comprise the body of this project and is complemented with extracts from Pat Tierney’s The Moon at My Back - as well as chorus lines from Listen to the Lives of the Little Ones, Orphan Boys and Orphan Girls, and the Bunators Special by Padraig Stevens.

Maigh Seola contributed the beautiful Suantrai Lullaby to Part 3 of DeValera’s Ireland, called Hymn to a Mother. The ancient melody Rolling Home to Dear Old Ireland was played by Leo Moran. It was recorded by Padraig Stevens on the site of the Tuam Mother & Baby Home on St. Patrick’s Day 2021.

We are also grateful for help and assistance from poet Theo Dorgan, from Ray Corcoran, and from Ray Bates at the Dublin City Arts office. Thanks to Theo Dorgan for directing us to the publishers of Austin Clarke’s poem The Planter’s Daughter and we are indebted to Michael Schmidt from Carcanet Press, Manchester, UK for permission to use The Planter’s Daughter.

Theo Dorgan was also very helpful on the background to Pat Tierney’s poetry readings on Grafton St and his community work in Ballymun in the 1980s. We would also like to thank broadcast journalist and producer Maud Hand for her valued advice and guidance with the project - and also a big thank you to our friend, the Westport-based journalist Liamy McNally for pointing us in the right direction.

This Audio Art Therapy Project was produced by Seamus Ruttledge and Padraig Stevens.

The artwork/graphic design for DeValeras Ireland is by Michael O’Dwyer at factoryedgedesign.

The Creative Community in Tuam

By Seamus Ruttledge

When I first came across singers singing their own songs in Tuam it was a sort of epiphany for me. The musicians I met were all able to sing their own songs and tell their own stories about local things that had, or were happening. They sang songs about the lives of local people. Some of these people and places I saw right before me in the normal everyday of life in Tuam.

The musicians were part of the Town’s loose unassuming arts community. This arts community in Tuam was also peopled by actors and directors from a vibrant amateur theatre scene that was central to Tuam social life since the early sixties.

They were always putting on the plays of the Tuam born playwright Tom Murphy, who was internationally acclaimed and celebrated.

Going to see these plays put on in Tom Murphy’s home town where the language of his plays and much of the subject matter originated, was a revelation to me.

As is well known Tom Murphy’s plays were based on the experiences of real people trapped in social situations in a closed society dominated by the clergy, and the harshness of the lives they lived.

It was revealing to listen to people in Tuam talk about Murphy as local and point out the physical places and the people that may have inspired Tom Murphy’s writing. It confirmed the adage that you should “write about what you know” and your own life and experiences.

This same down-to-earth and unassuming arts community were instrumental in my own journey of discovery into the life of the young orphan boy named Joseph McEvey.

They always encouraged me in my early attempts at song writing and also my attempts at writing a form of verse or poetry of self-discovery.

Witnessing first hand these artists and musicians do their work in such an accepting and unassuming manner allowed me to open up and talk about the institutional regime and life in Lenaboy orphanage as a ‘secret child’(orphan) - and do it through poetry and song.

These early forms of artistic expression that were encouraged and nurtured by my association with the Tuam arts community opened up a way for me to give expression to difficult things that were not easy to talk about. This acceptance was new to me and to my life and it proved to be a form of salvation.

When I wrote a poem called The Secret Child, the musicians and songwriters of Tuam gathered round me and helped me to record The Secret Child as a song, as well as recording Without A Full Moon, Orphan Child, and other songs about the orphan life, both within and beyond the institution.

This to me was art working as therapy. It was a concrete example of art serving a purpose and opening a way to express the inexpressible, the difficult, and the dark things that had occurred.

The Secret Child appeared on my first album New Boots New Shoes. The album was recorded with contributions and help from the wider community of Tuam’s musicians and songwriters. They have all continued to help and support me. This would not have happened in any other place I know but Tuam.

The acceptance and the compassion of the Arts Community in Tuam allowed me to move from feelings of anger, despair, and inadequacy to a place of dignity and self-worth. I was now creating my own art and expressing myself through an understandable language that emerged as artistic forms I found a more positive and meaningful way to deal with the long term emotional, mental, and physical affects of early childhood years spent behind the high grey walls of Lenaboy orphanage and trying thereafter to live a normal life with the stigma of being labelled an illegitimate child.

I am indebted to Tuam’s Arts community.

Sleeve Notes: Introduction to the Audio

Part 1 - acts the an awakening to the subject and the times it occurred. This represents the heard voices of the people with power; the clergy, the politician, and the state. The only voices heard in “this stilled silent land”

Part 2 - opens again with the heard voices of authority and power. The chorus ‘Listen to the Lives of the Little Ones’ brings the listener inside the walls of the institution and the different unheard voices of the incarcerated children locked behind “high grey walls”.

Part 3 - is a requiem for the Mothers who were institutionalised and forced to give up their babies. It represents the whispering voices of the unheard, seeking truth and justice against the loud voices of condemnation and retribution.


De Valera’s Ireland copyright Seamus Ruttledge and Padraig Stevens 2021.

The project represents the artists’ unique perspective and may contain subjective interpretations that do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the University of Galway. Visitors to this website are encouraged to engage with the content critically and appreciate it as a form of artistic expression.