“Come 46, Then 47, Black 47. There Was No Mercy In It!”
The Famine has been for so long in Irish life a literally unspeakable subject. The sense of silence was what prompted Eamon Grennan in the first place to try to centre and orchestrate such a piece through voices. Given the variety of elements involved, what Eamon decided to do, in order to make a “dramatic recital for two voices” was to put together a kind of patchwork quilt, an audio quilt, of the voices of some of those directly involved (whether suffering or helping or hindering) in the catastrophe itself, whether English, or Irish, or indeed American.
What Eamon has done, in order to tie the thing together into some sort of unity, is create by means of most of the speeches spoken by Sean, a kind of Everyman character, a countryman whose observations (sometimes apparently spoke in our time, some contemporary with the events he mentions) form a common-sense ordinary, emotionally active response to the various elements he notes in the years of famine. Aside from this, he speaks in the persons of a few other incidental participants, while Tegolin brings various other characters to life as speaking voices.
In addition, the first part of the piece serves as a kind of “historical prologue,” sweeping from the 16th to the end of the18th Century, and using snippets from such writers as Spenser and Swift and Goldsmith to prepare the way into the middle of the 19th Century and the terrible events of the Great Famine itself.
In devising the piece, Eamon used mostly direct documentary evidence, in mostly direct quotation. There’s a bibliography at the back of the program citing the works he drew from. These quotations (sometimes a little adjusted) he has sewn together with some incidental linking bits of his own. This documentary evidence includes, of course, poems and songs as well as political speeches and oral memories.
Our hope is that through immersion in what these living dead voices are telling us, our sense of some of the features of that unspeakable Famine landscape will become clearer to us, and open us to a somewhat more immediate feeling about it.