Famine by Tom Murphy Irish Playwright
- Author: Tom Murphy (1935 – 2018)
- Title: DruidMurphy: Plays by Tom Murphy
- Published: 1977
- Table of contents: 3 plays
- A Whistle in the Dark (1961) (read)
- Famine (1977) (read + review)
- Conversations on a Homecoming (1985) (read)
- Trivia: Ireland: Luck of the Irish Reading Challenge
- List Reading Challenges 2017
- T. Murphy died on 15 May 2018 (obituary)
- Tom Murphy grew up in Tuam, County Galway, a tough frontier town.
- The youngest of 10 children, he saw his family “wiped out” by emigration.
- He was religious as a child, but had faith beaten out of him by the Christian Brothers.
- “The repressiveness of the Catholic upbringing was extreme,” he shivers
- Murphy was inspired to write this play after
- ….reading The Great Hunger by C. Woodham-Smith.
What is Tom Murphy’s approach to writing a play with a historical background?
- Murphy reads many books about the subject of his play.
- Sometimes is takes him 1-2 years to write the script.
- He read at least 6 non fiction books
- …researched the collections of the Irish Folklore Commission
- …and 3 novels about the famine in Ireland.
- Novels: all by William Carleton
Valentine McClutchy: the Irish Agent
The Emigrants of Ahadarra
The Black Prophet.
In each case noting passages of dialogue and colloquial phrases.
What was TM’s biggest challenge?
- How to represent the action of more than 100 years ago so as to
- …engage audiences in the present time of theater.
What was Murphy’s goal?
- Murphy wanted to voice through the actors the
- general effect of famines on the poor.
- The neighborhood ties loosen of dissolve.
- Theft becomes endemic.
- Resistance changes into apathy.
- The feeling of a ‘group’ is shattered.
- Style: Brechtian history
- the Brechtian style that relies on the audience’s reflective detachment
- …rather than emotional involvement.
- Structure: 12 scenes (not divided into acts)
- Main character: John Connor —- unofficial leader of the village
- Minor characters: 3 women and 15 other male villagers
- Timeline: 1846 (Autumn) – 1847 (Spring)
- Setting: village of Glanconor – space is ‘charged’ with historical trauma.
What is the problem?
- John tells the villagers ‘We must do what is right’.
- — restrain violence
- — no attacks on convoy of corn-carts
- — providing hospitality to others…..even when his own family is starving.
What is the conflict?
- Doing ‘what’s right’ and placing faith in the laws of God and man
- …get him and the villagers no where.
- Passive resistance; pragmatic idealism ( John Connor) VS.
- Desperate reality (John’s wife) and
- Militant, activist, a survivor who favors violent action (Malachy O’ Leary)
- Tom Murphy writes with more force and less nostalgia.
- Famine is hard edged realism.
- Scenes 1-4 introduce the reader to the characters and village.
- Scene 5 is powerful.…
- …and the language indicates the higher-class officials are speaking.
- Landlord, tenant John and the clergy Fr Horan and Fr Daley discuss the political
- …strategy that has been agreed upon by the government.
- The policy is to offer “..a great number of people an alternative to death.”
- The farmers will be given a paid ticket to leave the country…to emigrate to Canada.
- Fr Daley explodes when he hears “It is cheaper it clear them away”
- Fr Daley ask: “Who are we saving?”
- Scene 6-10 builds the tension…planned assassination, final interview for John Connor.
- He must choose to leave or stay in Glanconor
- “…I was born here, I’ll die here, I’ll rot here.”
- Scene 11 Tom Murphy brings the play to a close introducing unexpected actions.
- John Connor continues to be defiant, “..do what’s right”
- We see John as an isolated figure, perhaps he has lost his senses.
- Now the reader must decide: was John a hero or a fool?
Tom Murphy does not seek the limelight
…but his plays are ‘beacons’ of insight into
the Irish psyche.
He is considered to be the greatest living Irish playwright.