Synopsis

Set on the Strokestown estate in County Roscommon, Ireland, at the height of the Great Irish Famine, “In the Midst of Plenty” tells the story of the fictional Bridget Connor, a strong, resourceful, impoverished mother of four who struggles to keep her family together in the face of near-certain eviction, starvation, or forced emigration.  Bridget’s story takes place against the backdrop of the real historical events that transpired on the Strokestown estate during the Great Famine, a period in which Ireland lost a quarter of its population to death or emigration.

 

As the show opens, Bridget’s husband tells her that the public works project that has provided employment for him and for their young adult son will soon come to an end. Although Parliament intends to replace the public works projects with soup kitchens, there is no kitchen at Strokestown and no immediate plan to open one. While thousands of paupers on the estate suffer the worst impacts of the famine, the estate landlord, Denis Mahon, spends the first half of the year in London, preparing for the wedding of his daughter to the son of a powerful member of the landowning elite.  Though Mahon has been for many years inclined toward treating his tenants with charity and compassion, he is increasingly convinced by both his land agent and other members of his social class that the only way to retain control of his estate is to rid it of two thirds of the existing population — some 8,000 people. 

 

As evictions at Strokestown begin, Mahon’s daughter, Grace, marries in London. Bridget’s adult son, William, is secretly wed to his sweetheart, Nancy, who is the niece of Bridget’s best friend, Mary.  Aware that the crisis around her is deepening, Bridget begins to take action as best she can: she betrays a number of her friends and neighbors in hopes that her family will benefit from their departure from the land.  She convinces them to take part in a rent strike organized by local secret society instigators. She informs on them for being in possession of livestock that would disqualify them from receiving relief. And finally, when Strokestown tenants receive word that they have been selected to emigrate, she tricks them into thinking that her family will emigrate, too. 

 

When William learns that his family will not, in fact, be leaving for Canada, but that Nancy will be part of the mass migration, his relationship with his mother is irrevocably broken. He aligns himself with the dangerous secret society members who undertake violent action to assert control of the local countryside. When Grace returns to Strokestown at the end of the summer, after her long honeymoon, she is appalled to find that her father has evicted or forced the emigration of many thousands of people who lived on the land. 

 

Soon, word arrives in Strokestown that of the 1490 of the estate’s residents who emigrated pursuant to Mahon’s​​ scheme that summer, more than 700 have died on the journey or shortly after arriving in Canada — including Bridget’s best friend Mary. There is no word of Nancy, propelling William even deeper into his secret society association and motivating him to join in on a developing plot to assassinate Mahon. On November 1, 1847, the parish priest preaches an inflammatory sermon, excoriating Mahon for his cruelty after another round of eviction notices has been issued, declaring that Mahon is “worse than Cromwell — and yet he lives!” Mahon is ambushed and assassinated the next day. 

 

Six months later, Bridget learns that Mary’s three children and Nancy are all alive in Canada. Feeling the power of redemption offered by the fact that Nancy has sent remittances for her family to travel to Canada, Bridget decides that she must go to look after Mary’s children.