The Trial

Artist: Sinead McCann

Medium: Video


The Trial is a multi-screen visual art installation on the history of healthcare and human rights in the Irish criminal justice system. Created and led by visual artist Sinead McCann, made in collaboration with men from the Bridge Project, Dublin, who have lived prison experiences, and draws from historical research by UCD historians, Dr Catherine Cox and Dr Fiachra Byrne. It is part of a larger Wellcome Trust funded project ‘Prisoners, Medical Care and Entitlement to Health in England and Ireland, 1850-2000’.

For twenty two minutes, three characters – Tommy, Charlie, Neilí – tell real-life stories of those who were held and worked in Irish penal institutions during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The thematic focus is on experiences of solitary confinement, dealing with separation from family when in prison, mental and physical wellbeing in prison and childhood experiences of detention in St Patrick’s Institution, Dublin.
The development of The Trial involved the design of a creative process that enabled the men from the Bridge Project to engage with UCD academic research on healthcare in prison, past and present. The script for The Trial was developed through a series of creative workshops which centred on carefully selected historic research and the men’s own health in prison experience.

During this creative process, two case studies from the 1880s, focusing on the stories of John Burns and John Burke, resonated strongly with the men and these were developed into mini scripts. Using role play, actors Tommy O’Neill and Neilí Conroy performed these scripts in a series of ‘theatrical enquires’ led by the men from the Bridge Project over several workshops. Their engagement with the historic research during the workshops sparked discussions on the relationship, and differences, between the historic cases and their own experience.

During the process, the men authored monologues about their own experience of healthcare in Irish prison in the late twentieth century and their responses to the historic research. In the installation, these monologues are presented alongside the historic examples. Together present a story of experiences of healthcare in prison over time.
The script of The Trial also incorporates responses from professionals working in the criminal justice field in Ireland to the monologues. These include representatives from the Irish Prison Service, a prison chaplain, an addiction counsellor, two ex-governors, and a representative from the Irish Penal Reform Trust.

The Trial offers multiple perspectives on the long history of healthcare in prison from people who have been held and have worked in Irish penal institutions. It invites visitors to reflect on individual experiences across history and on the human right to health.

Funded by Arts Council, Dublin City Council, University College Dublin, Wellcome Trust.


Dr Sinead McCann is a Dublin based artist working across the mediums of performance, video, installation and sculpture often in a context, site or community specific way. According to Sinead ‘I often work collaboratively with arts and non-arts professionals to produce innovative and challenging artworks which add an artistic contribution to public debate on important social issues in modern life’.


Recent works include the following.  Sound On! (2021), is a 3D creative sound project in collaboration with artist Alan James Burns and Saint John of God Liffey Service exploring happiness and human rights, funded by the Artist in Community Realisation Award. Small Talk (2021), is a 45-minute radio documentary in collaboration with The Bridge Project, Dublin 8 exploring access to employment for people with a criminal record, funded by a research grant as part of the Engage the City programme with Dublin City Council Culture Company and Artist in the Community Project Realisation Award. The Trial (2018), was a four channel synced video and sound installation made in collaboration with the Bridge Project Dublin 8, and University College Dublin medical historians Associate Professor Catherine Cox and Dr Fiachra Byrne, funded by a Participation Project Award from the Arts Council, a Community Award from Dublin City Council, with further funding from University College Dublin and the Wellcome Trust UK. The Trial went on National tour in 2019. 

Living Inside (2019) is a photographic exhibition of the work of Irish photo-journalist Derek Speirs, Kilmainham Jail, co-curated with historian Dr Oisin Wall, funded by the Wellcome Trust UK, and University College Dublin.  Health Inside (2018), was a public art intervention on large scale billboards and bus shelters in Dublin 7 near Mountjoy prison, in collaboration with UCD historians, Dr Oisin Wall and Associate Professor Catherine Cox funded by an Open Call Award. 

Sinead studied for her degree in Fine Art at TU Dublin (00-04), and for her Masters of Fine Art (05-08) and practice-based PhD Fine Art Sculpture (2009-2015) at the National College of Art and Design Dublin. She has worked part time (since 2009) in Technological University Dublin coordinating socially engaged curriculum-based projects between community organisations, staff and students across disciplines. She served on the board of directors of Common Ground from 2013 to 2014.