The Great Hunger, UCC Granary Theatre

The misery, deprivations and loneliness of an Irish rural existence are brought to life in Jack Healy’s performance of Patrick Kavanagh’s epic poem, ‘The Great Hunger,’ directed by Ger Fitzgibbon.

First published in 1942, it is the poet’s answer to the sentimentalised version of peasant life that he found prevalent among the Dublin literati.

The protagonist is bachelor farmer, Patrick Maguire, who is sexually and spiritually starved, living a humdrum existence with his mother and spinster sister. Repression is a big theme, with Maguire describing his mother as being “hard as a Protestant spire.” He relates how she would be ready to die if her daughter found a husband.

Maguire is married to the land, having failed to seize the day with the various women he encountered over the years.

Healy gives a solid performance, although at times he seems to be merely reciting the poem. He is at his best when perched atop a pile of newspapers; he swings his legs and reveals a lighter side to his dark character.

But for the most part, Maguire cuts a sad figure, albeit one with great powers of observation and a dry wit.

After his mother’s death, Maguire sobs. But it is clear he is sobbing for himself. Healy doesn’t hold back here. He portrays Maguire as vulnerable, pathetic and worthy of pity.

Despite the bleakness, there are moments of beauty observed in nature.


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