Music and Silence

While we were developing this piece, RTÉ television screened The Hunger: The Story of the Irish Famine, a major two-part documentary produced in collaboration with University College Cork and based on The Atlas of the Great Irish Famine. One of the many details which stood out to us in this was Kevin Whelan’s observation that before the Famine, rural Ireland was full of noise: everywhere people talked. It was a shared, open culture. One of the saddest things about the Famine, Professor Whelan said, was that that culture weakened dramatically. We wanted the film to capture something of that shared experience, and also allow some release – even, briefly, some joy – into the way we imagined these lives. We did that through music: five exceptional musicians, Jennie Nolan, John Chandler, Mike Hogan, Mike Grisenthwaite, and Megan Nolan played a selection of traditional Irish pieces to accompany the commemoration. Their repertoire included waltzes, gentle slip jigs and arrangements of compositions by Turlough O’Carolan (1670-1738).

As we devised the action for the memorial, other places, gestures, references, and associations began to gather. We knew that music would be an important element of the piece - but that silence, too, among this gathering of people, would need to be captured. The order of service for Good Friday in the Catholic church concludes with the words "all depart in silence", and we had that in mind as we considered the way in which our crowd of participants might leave the site on Mulberry Street, and each go their separate ways in the city after participating in this shared act.