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The Elephant Collective, Birth Activist Group (2014-2019)

I am absolutely thrilled that the work of the Elephant Collective will be preservid and archived with the Digital Repository Ireland (DRI). On 5th November 2020, The Elephant Collective wonthe DRI Community Archive Scheme award 2021.  

For more information about this award see: 

Between 2014 and 2019, the Elephant Collective a national voluntary, grassroots group worked with the parliamentarian Clare Daly MEP (then TD) to help gain a new law, the Coroners (Amendment) Act 2019 which was ratified in July 2019 after a six year campaign. Now, if a woman dies in our maternity services an there will be an automatic inquest, this is mandatory.


Central to this legislative campaign was the multimedia art exhibition, Picking Up the Threads: Remaking the Fabric of Care, which toured nationally and was exhibited in 12 venues including art galleries, university campuses and women's community group conferences.  This was a voluntary grassroots campaign that involved working community groups, activists, politicians at local and nationally level to secure this much needed legislation. Clare Daly (MEP) and her team were particularly committed to this campaign lobbying regularly and persistently for the new legislation.  The project was initiated by Dr Jo Murphy-Lawless, sociologist and midwifery students at Trinity College Dublin (TCD) who began the commemorative knitted quilt with midwifery students at  (TCD) that became the centrepiece of the exhibition. It quickly moved from a show of solidarity with bereaved families and became a legislative campaign, employing social practice methods building momentum and garnering support around the country.


Background to the campaign:

The collective includes individuals and groups who came together because they had been affected by, or had serious concerns about how maternal deaths in Ireland were investigated.

Following a 6 year campaign the Coroner’s (Amendment) Act was signed into law on 23rd July 2019. Now automatic inquests for all maternal deaths in Ireland is mandatory. 

We called ourselves the Elephant Collective because when the elephant is giving birth, the herd surrounds her to keep her and her calf safe.  The group includes educators, midwives, student midwives, birth activists and artists from around the country.

The multimedia art exhibition, Picking Up the Threads: Remaking the Fabric of Care which we toured nationally raising awareness of the need for this legislative change. We worked collaboratively and participatory with local community groups, political figures and individuals gradually gathering support across communities.

My role was that of contributing artist, curator and activist, lobbying local and national politicians throughout the campaign and working closely and collaboratively with community groups and galleries.

Why we lobbied for legislative change

Between 2008 and 2014, there were inquests for eight women who died in our maternity services, all of which ended in verdicts of death by medical misadventure. The families of these eight women fought for these inquests, but what about the families who did not have inquests?

The multimedia exhibition was initially created to commemorate the lives of the eight women whose families had fought so hard to learn about what had happened to their loved one. It also honoured the women who died and whose names we do not know.

The multi-media exhibition, Picking Up the Threads:  Remaking the Fabric of Care  includes:

  • a knitted quilt, made by over one hundred contributors from across the island of Ireland and beyond

  • the documentary, 'Picking up the Threads', which has been made about this project by filmmaker Anne-Marie Green (link to the trailer for this documentary is attached)

  • portraits of the eight women commemorated by Martina Hynan

  • a framed cross-stitch panel of the names of the eight women by Donegal craft knitter Louise Crossan

  • a short film entitled 'Silent Killer: a timeline of the death of Savita Halappanavar' by artists, Laura Fitzpatrick

  •  knitted works donated to the exhibition by local knitting groups in Ennistymon Co. Clare, Galway, Letterkenny, Co. Donegal, Tipperary and Wexford

  • Artwork from Access 2000, community development organisation, Wexford

  • A play by drama tutor, Monica Spencer, based on the lives of the 8 women whose deaths are commemorated in the exhibition created with the Moyross Women’s Drama Group; commissioned by Limerick Women’s Network.

  • Local groups were invited to create knitted/crochet work in response to the theme of the exhibition for inclusion in the permanent exhibition

  • Secondary schools in Tipperary town created artworks that were included with the exhibition

Below is a selection of photos from our events over the 5 year period, just a few of the many events and amazing people involved. We are currently looking at ways to archive this project.

Exhibition Venues:

DIT, Grangegorman, Dublin (Nov 2015)

Letterkenny Regional Cultural Centre, Letterkenny, Co. Donegal (March 2016)

Wexford Film Festival (Sept 2016)

Culture Night, Ennis, Co. Clare (Sept 2016)

The Courthouse Gallery, Ennistymon, Co. Clare (Sept/Oct 2016)

Festival of Feminisms, Clare Women’s Network, Ennis (Oct 2016)

Institute for Lifecourse and Society, NUI Galway (Feb 2017)

Limerick Women’s Network, International Women’s Day Event, Ormston House, Limerick (March 2017)

The Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement (MIRCI) International Conference, 

NUI Galway (July 2017)

Excel Arts & Cultural Centre, Tipperary (Feb 2018)

Aula Maxima, University College Cork (March 2018)

Wexford Art Centre (Jan-Feb 2019)

  • Facebook
Launch of The Elephant Collective Legisl
At the Regional Cultural Centre, Letterk
The Courthouse Gallery, Ennistymon, Co.
background for website.jpg
Aula Maxima, UCC with support from Women
Book launch at our UCC exhibition 2018.j
Festival of Feminism hosted by Clare Wom
courthouse gallery 2 september 2016.jpg
Excel Art centre Tipperary Town 2018.jpg
Dr Jo Murphy-Lawless with Mary Bradshaw
Students artwork Excel Art Centre Tipper
Student artwork from secondary schools T
Quilt contributor list at UCC 2018.jpg
knitted quilt centrepiece The Elephant C
Thank You Event, Copper House Gallery 15
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