Whose History? began with walking. The idea for this project emerged in August 2020, following the success of the University of Liverpool’s Culture Unconfined festival in May that year, during the first lockdown. When the decision was taken to develop a performance event centring on sites associated with historical figures and events on the university’s South Campus, Sidelong Glance director Eleanor Lybeck began to walk around Abercromby Square and its immediate environs, looking for stories in the streets.
There was one story – or rather one set of stories – which Eleanor already had a sense of. She knew she wanted to return to a small plaque on Mulberry Street. There are two sentences on it: one in English, one in Irish. With dignified restraint, which respects the enormity of the human experience described, the words tell us:
“Near this place in 1847, some 2600 destitute Irish Famine migrants were buried in unmarked pauper graves. They had died in extreme poverty in the parish of Liverpool, so ending their flight from the Great Hunger 1845-52.”
The question “whose history?” could hardly be more apt for this site: “some 2,600 people”, lost in a disaster which claimed an estimated one million people, and nameless in death. For all that we know about the Famine, we will never know them: people who left Ireland during the year remembered as the very worst of that period, 1847, hoping to escape crisis at home, found only a new version of destitution in the city to which they travelled.
It is thanks to the extraordinary efforts of the Great Hunger Commemoration Committee, during the events in the 1990s which marked the 150th anniversary of the Famine, that the plaque, and therefore the reminder, exists. While the remains of the people buried here were removed in the 1950s when the site was redeveloped, the street where they lay for a century remains an important focal point for our acknowledgement of this particular chapter in Liverpool’s Irish story.