September 3, 2019

Fund for Irish Studies at Princeton University presents “The Making of ‘The Hunger'”

Princeton University Professor of Music and composer Donnacha Dennehy and Global Scholar and singer Iarla Ó Lionáird discuss the creation of the music-theater work, The Hunger, about the Great Famine in Ireland, on Friday, September 13. The discussion will take place at 4:30 p.m. in the Lewis Center for the Arts’ James Stewart Film Theater at 185 Nassau Street on the Princeton campus. The event opens a full season of the 2019-20 Fund for Irish Studies series at Princeton University and is free and open to the public.

The Hunger premiered in 2016 starring O’Lionáird at BAM Next Wave Festival. It is based on diaries and personal accounts from the period of the Great Famine in Ireland (1845-52). A departure from conventions in which the ensemble is concealed in the orchestra pit, the work integrates the players with the action and storytelling taking place on stage. The production includes video of present-day thinkers who consider the conditions that led to the famine and their implications for inequality in our own time.

The Great Famine was a time of major upheaval, the historical significance of which is well documented. At least one million people died and yet another million emigrated. Less well-recorded are accounts of those who directly witnessed and suffered through the famine. At the heart of Dennehy’s The Hunger are personal, contemporaneous stories that introduce new dimensions in the tragedy of the famine. The Hunger also addresses the complex issues of governance and economic policy by complementing these personal, historical voices with video interviews of contemporary economists and political philosophers, such as Noam Chomsky and Paul Krugman. The piece not only recounts history as it happened, but also addresses the current socioeconomic problems of the recent global economic crisis.

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Composer Donnacha Dennehy. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Dennehy is a professor of music at Princeton. His music has been featured in festivals and venues around the world, such as the Edinburgh International Festival, Royal Opera House London, Carnegie Hall New York, The Barbican London, The Wigmore Hall London, BAM New York, Tanglewood Festival, Holland Festival, Kennedy Center, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival in the UK, Dublin Theatre Festival, ISCM World Music Days, Bang On A Can, Ultima Festival in Oslo, Musica Viva Lisbon, the Saarbrucken Festival, and the Schleswig-Holstein Festival. He has received commissions from Dawn Upshaw, the Kronos Quartet, Alarm Will Sound, Bang On A Can, Third Coast Percussion, Icebreaker (London), the Doric String Quartet (London), Contact (Toronto), Lucilin (Luxembourg), Orkest de Ereprijs (Netherlands), Fidelio Trio, Percussion Group of the Hague, RTE National Symphony Orchestra, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, BBC Ulster Orchestra and the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, among others. Collaborations include pieces with the writers Colm Tóibín (The Dark Places) and Enda Walsh (including the opera The Last Hotel, and a forthcoming opera (The Second Violinist), the choreographers Yoshiko Chuma and Shobana Jeyasingh, and the visual artist John Gerrard.  Dennehy founded Crash Ensemble, Ireland’s now-renowned new music group, in 1997. Alongside the singers Dawn Upshaw and Iarla O’Lionáird, Crash Ensemble features on the 2011 Nonesuch release of Dennehy’s music, entitled Grá agus Bás.  NPR named it one of its “50 favorite albums’’ (in any genre) of 2011. He joined the music faculty at Princeton in 2014.

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Singer Iarla Ó Lionáird. Photo courtesy of the artist,

Ó Lionáird is a global scholar at Princeton in the Department of Music and Irish Studies and in 2016 was a Belknap Teaching Fellow in the Council of the Humanities. He has carved a long and unique career in music in Ireland. From his iconic early recording of the vision song, “Aisling Gheal,” as a young boy to his ground-breaking recordings with Dublin’s Crash Ensemble, he has been widely recognized. In addition to Dennehy, he has worked with a stellar cast of composers internationally, including Nico Muhly, Dan Trueman, Gavin Bryars and David Lang, and he has performed and recorded with such luminaries as Peter Gabriel, Robert Plant, Nick Cave and Sinead O’Connor. His unique singing style has carried him to stages and concert halls all over the world, from New York’s Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center to the Sydney Opera House, London’s Royal Albert Hall and beyond. His film credits include The Gangs of New York, Hotel Rwanda, and most recently as featured vocalist in the film Calvary starring Brendan Gleeson and the film adaptation of Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn starring Saoirse Ronan.

On September 17, Princeton Sound Kitchen, the University’s lab for new music by composition faculty and staff, will present a program of new works including a concert version of The Hunger performed by Ó Lionáird, soprano Katherine Manley, and the ensemble Alarm Will Sound. The concert, at 8:00 p.m. at Richardson Auditorium, is free and open to the public, however advance tickets are recommended (available at

The Fund for Irish Studies affords all Princeton students, and the community at large, a wider and deeper sense of the languages, literatures, drama, visual arts, history, politics, and economics not only of Ireland but of “Ireland in the world.” The series is co-produced by the Lewis Center for the Arts and the 2019-20 edition of the series is organized by Princeton Professor and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon.

Information about the Fund for Irish Studies series events can be found at Other events scheduled in the current series include:

  • A reading by novelist John Banville followed by a conversation with Paul Muldoon on September 20
  • Journalist Anthony Murphy presenting “Dronehenge,” an illustrated talk on his 2018 discovery that has radically changed views of the Neolithic landscape of Brú na Bóinne”on November 22
  • “Fiddle strings, airplane wings and humanizing technology,” a talk by award-winning technology, innovation and creativity executive Domhnaill Hernon on December 6
  • A reading by writer Hannah Sullivan on March 6

Additional events are being planned.

The Fund for Irish Studies is generously sponsored by the Durkin Family Trust and the James J. Kerrigan, Jr. ’45 and Margaret M. Kerrigan Fund for Irish Studies.

To learn more about the more than 100 public performances, exhibitions, readings, screenings, concerts, lectures and special events, most of them free, presented each year by the Lewis Center for the Arts, visit

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