The Great Hunger

Written by Tom Mac Intyre
Directed by Geoffrey O'Keeffe
Performed in The Mill Theatre, Dundrum - November 2008, RTÉ All Ireland Drama Festival 2009

'The Great Hunger' by Tom Mac Intyre was presented at the Mill Theatre from Tuesday 25 – Saturday 29 November 2008 and was later entered into the RTÉ All Ireland Drama Festival 2009.

The final result for Balally Players in the All Ireland Drama Festival at the Dean Crowe Theatre in Athlone on 6 May was that 'The Great Hunger' was placed 4th in what was described by veterans of the competition as "a vintage year". Estuary Players retained the title with their production of 'The Last Days of Judas Iscariot'.

Characters from the play
Francis, Evan and Óran
Characters from the play
Óran, Evan and Francis


Three scarecrows out sitting and out standing in their field!

Evan Jameson (Patrick Maguire)

Francis Cahill (Malone)

Óran O'Rua (Joe)




At the final night of the Ulster Drama Festival in Armagh on Saturday 17 May, the production and those involved on both sides of the stage received the following awards and nominations:

- Most Ambitious Play

- Best Moment of Theatre - the parade to church

- Best Set Design - Gerard Bourke Best Young Performer - Niamh Holland

- Nomination for Best Supporting Actress - Jacqueline Dooley

- Nomination for Best Actor - Evan Jameson

Director Geoffrey O'Keeffe was very happy with the performance of his cast and crew after so many months of hard, but enjoyable work on 'The Great Hunger'. He said that “we did ourselves proud on the All Ireland stage and again at the Ulster Drama Festival” in the company of other very accomplished drama groups. As the curtain came down on the last performance of the play at the AUDF Ulster Final in Armagh on 11 May, Geoffrey reflected on the inevitable mix of emotions at the end of what he described as “a most amazing journey” and said that while he will be pausing to take a breath, he's looking forward to finding “another path that has been less taken”!

Judy McKeever was Nominated in the category Best Supporting Actress for her role as Agnes.

Judy McKeever with Nuala Carey
Judy McKeever with Nuala Carey


Judy also received the Drama League of Ireland (DLI) Bursary.

Picture shows Judy (left) with Nuala Carey from RTÉ at the All Ireland Drama Festival Finals in Athlone.

The striking set, which was the work of Gerard Bourke, received a Nomination for Best Set Design.



'The Great Hunger' embarked on a six-performance tour of the RTÉ All Ireland Drama Festival 2009 in March, prior to the finals in May. The full schedule of festival performances and the results achieved are in the tables below.


Rush Drama Festival Millbank Theatre, Rush, Co. Dublin


14 Mar

Dublin Drama Festival Mill Theatre, Dundrum, Dublin 16


21 Mar

Cavan Drama Festival Town Hall Theatre, Cavan Town, Co Cavan


22 Mar

Glenamaddy Drama Festival Town Hall Theatre, Glenamaddy, Co Galway


28 Mar

Newry Drama Festival Town Hall Theatre, Newry, Co. Down


29 Mar

Mid-Ulster Drama Festival Patrician Theatre, Carrickmore, Co. Tyrone



1: Rush Drama Festival - 2nd place

Best Director, Geoffrey O'Keeffe
Best Supporting Actor, Len Nealon

The Great Hunger

2: Dublin Drama Festival - 2nd place

Best Actor, Evan Jameson
Adjudicator's Award, the entire cast of the play
Nomination for Best Supporting Actress, Jacqueline Dooley
Nomination for Best Supporting Actor, John Canning

The Great Hunger

3: Cavan Drama Festival - 2nd place

Summer School Scholarship awarded to Niamh Holland
Best Stagecraft awarded to the production

The Great Hunger

4: Glenamaddy Drama Festival- 3rd place

Best Supporting Actress, Judy McKeever
Best Sound, Gary Wall and Hilary Madigan

The Great Hunger

5: Newry Drama Festival - 1st place

Best Director, Geoffrey O'Keeffe
Certificate of Merit, Evan Jameson

Nomination for Best Young Actor - Niamh Holland
Nomination for Best Supporting actress - Jacqueline Dooley and Judy Mc Keever
Nomination for Best Sound Design - Gary Wall/Hilary Madigan
Nomination for Best Set Design - Gerard Bourke
Nomination for Best Lighting - Barry Donaldson
Nomination for Best Costume - Dympna Murray

The Great Hunger

The Great Hunger

6: Mid-Ulster Drama Festival - 1st place

Best Director, Geoffrey O'Keeffe
Best Actor, Evan Jameson
Best Performance of a play by an Irish Author
Best Set Design, Gerard Bourke
Best Lighting Design, Barry Donaldson
Best Costume Design, Dympna Murray
Nomination for Best Supporting Actress, Judy Mc Keever
Nomination for Best Supporting Actor, Len Nealon

The Great Hunger poster

The story is centred on the life of Inniskeen farmer Patrick Maguire. He is a lonely man, living a physically and emotionally isolated life. While the play draws a very clear picture of the frustrations associated with such an existence, it has hilarious as well as brutal and tragic moments. Maguire has occasional and ultimately futile skirmishes with Agnes and the 'local girls'. This, and his failure to communicate with the other women in his life, his mother and sister, is very well portrayed. In contrast to this, he finds with 'the lads' a camaraderie and a sense of fun that lifts his spirits. This is a piece of physical theatre where the lines of the poem are used sparingly and appropriately.


The stark, visually striking images on stage complemented and accentuated the equally sparse use of language. All aspects of the production, including an evocative and haunting soundscape, combined to communicate the full gamut of powerful emotions, light and dark, that are at the root of the story.

The play was directed by Geoffrey O’Keeffe, All Ireland Winning Director and Chairman of Balally Players. This adaptation of Patrick Kavangh's poem of the same name, became a touchstone for fresh and exciting approaches to Irish theatre when it was first produced in The Peacock Theatre in 1983.

Patrick Maguire
Mary Ann
The Priest
The School Girl
Evan Jameson
Jacqueline Dooley
Francis Cahill
Len Nealon
Judy Mc Keever
Niamh Holland
Óran O'Rua
John Canning
Niamh Daly, Síomha Ní Aoghusa

Cast at rehearsal
The cast at a final rehearsal in the Mill Theatre


Creative Team
Set Designer
Lighting Design
Sound Design
Costume Design
Production Manager
Stage Manager
Sound Operation
Stage Crew
Set Construction

Photography & Poster Design
Geoffrey O'Keeffe
Gerard Bourke
Barry Donaldson
Gary Wall
Dympna Murray
Muriel Caslin-O’Hagan
Patrick Hand
Hilary Madigan
Orlaith Cooney
John Carleton, Ronan Goggin,
Tony Mc Gettigan, Wes Scully
Teresa Dempsey
Declan Brennan
Joanne Keane
Karen Carleton


In spite of the play's title, it has nothing to do with the Irish famine.

The hunger issues explored relate to a spiritual and sexual starvation that can be endemic to any society, but is more stark and raw when placed in a rural setting.

Tom MacIntyre's adaptation of Patrick Kavanagh's poem, has been no stranger to controversy, not least because of its greater reliance on gestures, visual and aural effects rather than eloquent or poetic use of language.

A copy of the poster in Adobe Reader format is available_here. To save a copy, right-click on the link and select "Save Target As..."#



The play is imagistic, visual and highly physical. It is non-naturalistic in its performance style and offers cast and audience a great opportunity for an exciting, experimental evening of theatre.

Written by Tom Mac Intyre in 1983, it is one of the most daringly and excitingly original works. It is the moving and at times humorous story about the dreams and desires of a man starved of close relationships. His story is told against the backdrop of his small farm as he gathers potatoes in the dark brown earth of County Monaghan in the 1950s.

The judges at each performance had much to say about the play and how it was presented. All were full of praise for the team as a whole, commenting on the vision and commitment involved in tackling such an inherently difficult work. Those comments include Adjudicator Conall Morrison's praise for the Director, Geoffrey O'Keeffe, the actors and the crew behind them for the courage, passion, enthusiasm and skill with which they tackled a most challenging and demanding piece - "one where there's nowhere to hide and where there's no big speech for the actor's ego to lean on". He described it as a true team effort where "the whole package was very impressive" and delivered a great night of theatre.

At the final two of six All Ireland Festival performances the adjudicators' comments reflected the First Place awards that they gave to the production.

Geoffrey O'Keeffe
Director, Geoffrey O'Keeffe

At the final two All Ireland Festival performances the adjudicators' comments reflected the placing they awarded to the production. In Newry, Adjudicator, Michael Twomey, said "I could not find one fault with the production".

And in Carrickmore, Tony Rushforth ended his glowing adjudication by saying: "This was excellent, committed ensemble work. In the hands of a talented director this play was brought to life".

The representatives of Balally Players have had their talent and very high standard of creativity, skill and commitment acknowledged by the adjudicators and their performances have been appreciated by audiences around the country. But, of course, this is a knock-out competition where only one performance from a broad range of very different productions is chosen as the overall winner. Getting into the final selection was a great achievement for Director Geoffrey O'Keeffe, the team of people who helped him realise his vision and also for the wider Balally Players group.

The overall results in the RTÉ All Ireland Drama Festival 2009 were published on the website of the Amateur Drama Council of Ireland (ADCI).

The first place results in two Ulster Festivals meant that 'The Great Hunger' also qualified for the AUDF Ulster Finals. So, in addition to the All Ireland Festival Final in Athlone in May, the play also competed in the Ulster Finals during the following week in The Market Place Theatre, Armagh on Monday 11 May. Full details were published on the website of the Association of Ulster Drama Festivals (AUDF).


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The Great Hunger

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