Westmeath-based Eoghan Burke, aka Fia Rua, as Father McDermott

Local musicians feature in new Famine musical

Several musicians with local links will feature in Enchanted Croí Theatre’s 14-venue nationwide tour of the new folk musical ‘In the Midst of Plenty’ which begins on May 25 and 26 with performances at Mullingar Arts Centre.

After debuting to sold-out performances in the National Famine Museum at Strokestown Park and the Roscommon Arts Centre in 2022, the full-scale musical now moves to theatres across Ireland between May and July this year.

Written by Amy Day and directed by Anne-Marie O’Sullivan, ‘In the Midst of Plenty’ tells the story of tenants struggling to survive on the Strokestown estate at the height of the Great Famine in 1847. It is set against the backdrop of the real historical events surrounding the plot to assassinate Denis Mahon, the Strokestown landlord, and traces the story of the so-called "missing 1490" who left Strokestown, walked along the Royal Canal to Dublin and sailed for Canada as part of Mahon’s forced emigration scheme.

It is an empowering story of strength, loss, resilience, and family connection that has resonated deeply with audiences.

Neil Fitzgibbon on fiddle

Three members of the cast have Westmeath ties. Bláthnaid Daly, an actress and writer from Fore, portrays Nancy Duffy and Grace Mahon.

Blathnaid Daly as Nancy Duffy, with Ruairi Nicholl

Neil FitzGibbon brings the musical to life as the fiddler in the live folk band. An Athlone native from a musical family, Neil descends from the Henshaws. His grandfather Billy was in Athlone musicals and played in Ciaran Kelly’s legendary ceili band in the 1960s. Now one of Ireland’s most sought-after trad fiddlers, Neil attended Marist College Athlone and later received a BA in Irish Music and Dance at the University of Limerick.

He appears frequently on TV and radio, has performed on a variety of the largest festival stages, toured extensively to venues abroad with multiple artists including the trad trio dBize, is a member of Athlone-based Siamsaíocht, and performs regularly with renowned artists including Tracy Bruen and Niall Teague.

Eoghan Burke (Fia Rua) is a Westmeath-based actor and musician who plays Fr Michael McDermott and Lord Palmerston in the show. Eoghan has released four albums, and tours as a folk singer. He has worked with Westmeath Libraries as a reader in residence and facilitator of workshops in podcasting, acting, music, and storytelling. He is also a tutor in music and drama with Westmeath Longford Educational Training Board and has made a well-received documentary on the Battery Belles, which focused on a group of Athlone women; the piece was launched in the Dean Crowe Theatre Athlone last year.

Daly, FitzGibbon, and Burke are joined by a large cast of actors and a live four-piece folk band. The cast includes Julie Sharkey (No Magic Pill), Martin Gilligan (Ros na Rún), Mary Claire Ryan (Banshees of Inisherin), Cian Hoyne (Vikings Valhalla), Áine O’Brien (Nationwide), Niall Brewster (Birds of Feather), Anne-Marie O’Sullivan (Enchanted Croí Theatre), and Ruairí Nicholl (Spring Awakening), and the band includes acclaimed folk artist Gráinne Hunt (recently supporting Glen Hansard and Declan O’Rourke), Jules Stewart, and Amy Day.

‘In the Midst of Plenty’ was developed with funding from the Roscommon County Council and the Dept of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media.

Its 2023 tour is made possible with support from the National Famine Way and the Irish Heritage Trust.