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10 Questions with Catherine O Halloran, founder of Draw Out Limerick

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Catherine O Halloran, a psychotherapist and youth worker, was named Limerick Person of the Month in September 2021 on behalf of her work with street art initiative Draw Out. 

10 Questions with Catherine O Halloran, founder of Draw Out Limerick

By I Love Limerick correspondent Rachel Petticrew

catherine o halloran Street artist Maser's Petrol Station on Parnell Street was a landmark project

Street artist Maser’s Petrol Station on Parnell Street was a landmark project

Catherine O Halloran is a psychotherapist, youth worker, managing director of Limerick City Build and the founder of Draw Out Limerick. Catherine has dedicated her life to improving those of young people from overlooked Limerick communities through vocational training, therapy and art. 

Limerick City Build Training Academy was established to create employment pathways for economically marginalised and socially excluded people in Limerick City, while Draw Out Limerick is an urban regeneration initiative that uses contemporary examples of urban art to reimagine empty space in the city. 

Catherine O Halloran was named Limerick Person of the Month in September 2021 on behalf of her work with Draw Out. She is passionate about regenerating her beloved Limerick, both physically and socially. 

Were you born in Limerick City? What was your childhood like here?

I was born in Limerick, in St. Mary’s Park, then later I moved to Corbally. I am so deeply connected to the working-class culture of Limerick, and I think this is what has informed so much of my work. I guess the experience of moving from one community to another, with such vastly different lifestyles and practices was really jarring. I achieved a unique perspective though – I became aware of the invisible line dividing social class that exists in Limerick, and how people are valued differently in society because of the side they reside on. More than anything, that fuelled my passion for social justice and equality.

When did your love of art begin?

I was lucky enough to grow up in a very artistic family. My parents were creative and a bit rebellious in their approach to things, and this allowed them to parent us in a way that really facilitated self-expression and creativity. My mam would let us paint the walls and there was never a limit on the lengths we could go to to create, which was amazing. Most of my siblings were extremely artistic too. My mother is a psychotherapist, so it was a melting pot of all things artistic which nurtured my passion for visual arts.

What inspired you to get involved in social and youth work? Have you always had a passion for helping others get back on their feet?

I think it is a combination of my own life experiences and a strong conviction that we can heal and overcome anything in life with the right support.  It’s also understanding that the root cause of a lot of the social problems we see in Limerick is inter-generational trauma. When you understand that, everything else makes sense. 

People need opportunities for healing and growth with trained professionals who understand the severity of what is happening for them. In my experience, that’s lacking here. When communities have experienced trauma to the extent that some Limerick communities have, we are going to see young people grow up with a fractured sense of identity, with no real role models to anchor them, with chaos and criminality and addiction. This will inevitably continue unless we grabble with the complexity of trauma a bit more and understand how to treat it. It is miraculous what can happen for people with the right supports around them.

Limerick City Build does amazing work connecting unemployed limerick people with skilled training and job opportunities. As the managing director of LCB, are you proud of what the academy has achieved over the past decade?

I am so proud of what we have achieved with very, very little. Moreso, I am proud of the participants that have come through the academy, fought for themselves and changed their lives for the better. It is an absolute privilege to spend my time with young men who have overcome unimaginable struggles in their lives and are still looking to better themselves. 

We can provide them with the therapy and training they might need, but the pride for me is in their commitment to themselves and to see them grow in confidence and happiness with the right encouragement, acknowledgement and opportunity. To see them thriving in employment with the coping skills they now have to deal with the challenges that life brings, and the maturity to face them with confidence. 

A job can save someone’s life and offer a sense of identity, purpose and meaning, something that is missing for young men today.

Throughout your career, you have at different times used art to help others who are struggling. Do you believe art has the ability to help and heal? 

Art has the potential to express for us things that can’t be articulated so that in itself is healing. I think all healing is creative energy. Creativity is one of the first casualties of trauma and so reintroducing art can be an incredibly powerful tool for recovery.

As a psychotherapist, I have used artistic means of working with clients. With groups, it is something we use a lot and it’s really powerful to see the wider impact in communities, where it can have more unexpected benefits.

Draw Out has been running for almost a decade now, reimagining derelict or dark area’s of Limerick City through street art. What has been your favourite project to date? 

I think street artist Maser’s Petrol Station on Parnell Street was a landmark project. Paul Foley, previously of Limerick City and County Council presented me with the site and immediately I thought of a 1950s style garage and knew Maser was the man for the job. He is a real visionary and it was so thrilling working alongside him to bring it to life. He is an incredible artist to see in-process, and he delivered something that I think broke the mould and was one of the first of its kind. I don’t think anything of that scale and something so architectural has been done in Ireland since.

Do you find any similarities in your work with Draw Out and Limerick City Build?

All my work is done from a desire to improve Limerick in some way, be it the physical or social regeneration of the city. Both projects are about working with the resources we have and creating something we can be proud of. Our young people are our most valuable resource, yet they are cast aside, in many cases socially deprived and disadvantaged. I am so proud of where I come from and I really want to help cultivate a sense of pride in peoples identity, especially those who come from Limerick communities that are painted in a bad light. It can often feel like Limerick is divided, but for me, the spirit of Limerick is with the working class, and it is so beautiful and raw and resilient. Both Draw Out and LCB are projects that create a more established identity for Limerick and invest in its future.

What did it mean to you to receive the Limerick Person of the Month honour, on behalf of your work with Draw Out? 

It was a very special honour. I suppose it’s hard to take any credit when the artists are the ones who bring the real talent. They make the magic happen. I’m just so lucky to do what I love and work with an amazing team. I was thrilled for everyone involved.

With so much going on in your day to day life, what do you do to unwind? 

I get very little time to unwind, between my work and research. I am currently undertaking a PHD so all my free time at the moment is going into that. I do make sure I ground myself with a long walk or a run and carve out time with my family. My work is my life, and it’s not something that I hang up at 5 pm every day. It’s my passion and my vocation, so that can be challenging when I’m trying to wind down. It’s definitely something I have to be disciplined about.

 What do you hope to achieve in 2022? 

I hope we can continue to grow the Limerick City Build academy and gain more recognition for the unique model we have developed; a trauma-informed, gender-specific approach to vocational training and the mobilisation of long term unemployment. It’s never been done before. 

I also want to advance the work of Draw Out and hopefully secure more funding to deliver new murals. We are currently working on a really great project with several local artists that I am excited about, so there are definitely some things in the pipeline.

Bonus Question: What do you love most about Limerick?

I love how resilient Limerick people are. It’s an incredibly beautiful quality and, in my experience, such a visceral aspect of the soul of our city. People have overcome so much, persevered and continue to strive for something better. All across the city, that’s what sets us apart. Witnessing peoples resilience gives me goosebumps at least once a day, the resilience of some of the people I work with or meet in Limerick communities. It really does restore my faith, and I really need that sometimes.

For more information on  Catherine O Halloran and Draw Out go HERE

For more stories on Draw Out go HERE

Richard is a presenter, producer, songwriter and actor. He was named the Limerick Person of the Year (2011) and won an online award at the Metro Éireann Media and Multicultural Awards (2011) for promoting multi-culturalism online. Richard says that the ilovelimerick.com concept is very much a community driven project that aims to document life in Limerick. So, that in 20 years time people can look back and remember the events that were making the headlines.

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