Musical opens new perspective to famine

An acclaimed new contemporary folk musical ‘In the Midst of Plenty’ will come to Cavan Town this weekend.

The piece by Roscommon-based Enchanted Croi Theatre amplifies the seldom-told stories of impoverished women and the choices they made as they fought to survive 19th-century cottier life. The drama features an entirely original acoustic folk score, a large cast of actors and vocalists, and a full folk band on stage.

“Having been involved with the National Famine Museum at Strokestown Park for over four decades, I have seen many Famine-related performances of varying standards, and this is singularly the best Famine-related piece I have ever seen,” said Caroilin Callery, director of the National Famine Way, a major sponsor of the show.

The show’s book, music, and lyrics were written by California-based folk musician Amy Day, who was inspired to write the piece in 2019 after visiting the National Famine Museum.

“I had been wanting for some time to turn my focus to writing a full-length folk musical along the lines of Once or Come From Away,” Amy explained. “I tried to open myself up to finding the right story, something I really believed in. As I experienced the way in which Strokestown presented Irish Famine history at the hyper-local level, I was deeply moved by the timelessness of what that story has to teach the world. I knew I had to learn more.”

Amy developed the script and score under the guidance of Maynooth-based Famine historian Dr Ciaran Reilly, who presented ways in which to humanise the event of global importance by focusing on the lesser-told experiences of cottier families, and women in particular.

“The landlord’s story has been told so many times,” explained Amy. “The right way to write this piece was to learn about the lives of women who did not have access to the tools required in order to record their stories and experiences. During the pandemic in particular, I was very focused on what it must have been like for a mother to live through the years of the Great Hunger, perceiving her community as a threat to her own family's survival.”

The touring cast is led by Julie Sharkey (No Magic Pill) and includes Niall Brewster, Conor O’Kane (HUME: Beyond Belief), Martin Gilligan (Ros na Rún), Mary Claire Ryan (Banshees of Inisherin), Bláthnaid Daly (An Triail), Áine O’Brien (Nationwide), Eoghan Burke (Playboy of the Western World), Anne-Marie O’Sullivan (Enchanted Croí Theatre), and Ruairí Nicholl (Spring Awakening).

“Many people are surprised when they hear that we have developed a musical set during the Famine, but we have found that the use of music, abstraction, and symbolism allow audiences to deal with, and perhaps in some small way to heal, this deep ancestral trauma in new ways,” said Anne-Marie O’Sullivan, the show’s Artistic Director.

‘In the Midst of Plenty' will play Cavan townhall Theatre on Sunday, May 28 at 8pm. Tickets available at or from the box office: 049 4380494 from 10am-4pm Tuesday to Friday.