Athlone Community Radio presents premiere broadcast of ‘An Gota Mór Bis/The Great Hunger’

This Sunday October 9, at 6pm, Athlone Community Radio (ACR ) will present the premiere radio broadcast of ‘An Gota Mór Bis/The Great Hunger’, a narrative poem relating essential experiences that the Irish lived during the 19th century potato famine.

The broadcast can be heard, via Athlone Community Radio’s website, throughout Ireland, North America and beyond; the Irish and the descendants of the Famine Diaspora in the United States, Canada and elsewhere will be able to listen together to the work live; this broadcast will also be streamed online by various Irish radio stations, as well as by Global Irish Radio in Chicago.

The Athlone Little Theatre Company performed the work’s stage premiere on June 25 in its venue and the 45-minute recording of this performance will be presented as part of the 90-minute broadcast.

The poem’s author is Thomas James Milan, a fourth generation Irish-American raised in Tacoma, Washington. The poem is a testimonial to those Irish who survived the Famine, to the estimated one million Irish who died, and to the more than a million who emigrated. Also, the work is the result of Tom Milan’s search for the reasons for his great grandparents’ decision to leave Ireland for the United States in 1851.

Athlone Community Radio considers this a very unique and important work. It presents the famine experience in an epic, narrative poetic form. It is composed of 20 original poems, having 650 text lines presented in a rhymed structure. Listening to the poems, the audience will be able to accompany their ancestors through those long years to learn about the immense suffering endured during the famine.

The poems relate the British Penal Laws imposed on the Irish, the potato blight, the countless evictions ordered during the long Famine - even in winter, the Irish mass emigration with its tragic consequences on family and Celtic culture, and the dangers of the months long Atlantic ship crossings. The English political leaders in Parliament, Whitehall famine bureaucrats, the English Ascendancy elite, along with the Church of Ireland religious ministers held a prejudicial belief that the blight was a curse sent from God to punish the Irish due to their papist faith. During the famine, this belief led to the Church of Ireland’s efforts to convert Catholics to Protestantism, based on the weapon of hunger.

After the poem’s performance there will be a discussion with Tom Milan, who is flying in from his home in Paris especially for the broadcast. He and presenter Philomena Murphy will also be joined by members of Athlone Little Theatre who performed the poem, and by local musician Liam Winnet, who will play the uilleann pipes live in the studio.

An audio contribution, concerning the famine evictions, from Dr Ciaran Reilly, a well-known famine historian at Maynooth University, will also form part of this varied special broadcast. Dr Reilly, commenting on the poem from a historical perspective, said that “the work has great imagery of place and experience.”

There will be an opportunity for audience participation. If listeners have a question or comment on the night, or in advance of the broadcast, they can text 087 99 55 884 or email [email protected].


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