The Fringe Out West, Strokestown Park House,
The National Famine Museum, Ireland
This eight-hour performance took place over two days in Strokestown Park House, Co. Roscommon. This Palladian-style mansion was built by Thomas Mahon MP (1701-1782) on lands granted to his grandfather, Nicholas, in the 17th century for his support in the British colonial campaign. It remained the home of the Anglo-Irish Mahon family, until 1979. It now constitutes part of The National Famine Museum. This museum opened and is housed in the estate stables. Visitors to the museum can also take tours of the ‘big house’ that has been restored and contains its original furnishings. Apart from those attending the performance festival, audiences also consisted of those participating on tours of the ‘big house.’ The performance took place in the servants kitchen of the ‘big house’, the only remaining galleried kitchen in Ireland.
Cooking a culinary concoction in this kitchen, Helena brings the past of this site into dialogue with the contingencies of the present. The performance takes into account the conflicting histories of shame and triumph synonymous with Strokestown Park House. The relationship between shortage and surplus, hunger and excess evoked by the ‘big house’ and its controversial role during the Great Irish Famine (1845-51) provides a framework for considering the Republic of Ireland’s economic collapse in 2010. The rise and fall of the Protestant Ascendancy, the assisted emigration of the staving Irish peasants administrated from the site during the Famine and the sense of triumph inherent in the nationalist commemoration of the Famine during the Celtic Tiger era are referenced in the performance. These themes are considered in light of Ireland’s loss of economic sovereignty following its acceptance of an International Monetary Fund and European Union bailout and co increased emigration from Ireland as unemployment soars. Through her ingredients (potatoes, soil, milk, menstrual blood and Catholic Holy Communion) Helena plays with the symbolism bound up in Ireland’s struggle for independence. In doing so, she offers a visceral challenge to nationalism’s containment of female sexuality.