One of Ireland’s most popular folk singer-songwriters, Declan O’Rourke, spent fifteen years writing a song cycle of stories about the Great Irish Famine. He’ll be presenting his award-winning songs at the Irish Cultural Centre on Thursday 4 April.
Chronicles Of The Great Irish Famine has been hailed as O’Rourke’s masterpiece, and he received the prestigious RTÉ Radio 1 Folk Awards Best Original Folk Track Award for one of its songs, “Along the Western Seaboard”.
Between 1845 and 1850, potato blight devastated Ireland’s staple crop, the main means of sustenance for many of the country’s poor. More than two million people (almost a quarter of the population) either died or emigrated. Much of that emigration was forced not only by hunger, but by landlords.
Although the Famine (also known as the Great Hunger) is now recognised as a major event in the country’s history, and is commemorated by statues and the National Famine Museum in Roscommon, for a long time it remained taboo.
O’Rourke recalls that the first song of the collection, , ‘Poor Boys Shoes’ was inspired by a passage from John O’Connor’s book The Workhouses of Ireland. “The hair stood up on my neck when I read the lines, ‘The man who carried his wife from the workhouse to their old home, mile after weary mile, and was discovered next morning dead, his wife’s feet held to his breast as if he was trying to warm them…’ I had stumbled into a chapter of history I knew almost nothing about. I wanted to share these stories the best way I knew how, through song.”