The Persistent Return

In 2015 the Workhouse Union programme of artists residencies was commissioned by Callan-based curators Hollie Kearns and Rosie Lynch to critically examine the history and legacy of Callan Workhouse in County Kilkenny. The Callan Workhouse Guild project emerged from that project and enabled Deirdre O'Mahony to make a new film, The Persistent Return, the culmination of years of research for the SPUD project. The film will provide the core of an installation and events at Visual Carlow in 2018.

Callan Workhouse Guild is supported by an Arts Council Project Award 2016

The film is loosely based on Voltaire’s Candide and follows the migration of potato from the Andes to Europe and the role it played in consolidating and concentrating power in the northern hemisphere. It seeks to describe the human cost of privileging scientific and political rationalism - the bedrock of modernity, at the expense of practical, place-based knowledge.

Chuno Deirdre OMahony Still the Persistent Return Film

 Chuño Film still from The Persistent Return Photograph by Tom Flannagan, 2016

Filmed at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham now the Irish Museum of Modern Art, the former Workhouse in Callan and at agricultural research centres in Ireland, it reflects on agrarian technologies that helped alleviate famine but also fuelled the establishment of empires and disastrous dependencies on monoculture. The camera probes these architectural structures;  mechanisms that enabled the regulation of biopolitical power but also resulted in scientific improvements to health and living conditions.

A voiceover and vocal improvisations are used to highlight tensions between between the imperialism of the Enlightenment project and abject, bare life. Detailed close-ups point to the role of thinking through making – silversmithing, basket making and crafting of perfectly straight potato ridges; all reminders that the skills of both head and hand are needed if we are to actively respond to challenges facing the planet today.

IMMA gardens Still the persistent return film Deirdre OMahony

Gardens at IMMA Film still from The Persistent Return Photograph by Tom Flannagan, 2017

workhouse hall

Workhouse Callan Film still from The Persistent Return Photograph by Tom Flannagan, 2017


Produced by Callan Workhouse Union and Deirdre O'Mahony

Directed by Deirdre O'Mahony

Cameras and stills: Tom Flannagan

Script by Deirdre O'Mahony

Editing Connie Farrell

Original Music Twin Headed Wolf.




[1] Felix Guattari, Soft Subversions (Cambridge: MIT/Semiotext(e) Forign Agents Series, 2009), 306.


Dromoher, Kilnaboy, Co. Clare, Ireland