The Workhouse Union project was curated in 2015 by Hollie Kearns and Rosie Lynch and funded by the Arts Council/An Chomhairle Ealaionn with a Visual Arts Project Award.
SPUD - the future is in the bag was part of O'Mahony's research. Containers were planted with potatoes in the courtyard of the building as a way to mark the changing nature of the site and introduce friends and new faces from the neighbourhood to the Callan Workhouse. Container planting enables potatoes and other tubers to be grown easily in many different contexts, from small urban gardens to spaces undergoing renovation like the Workhouse Union and are a very efficient way of getting a good yield of potatoes from small spaces. Sarpo blight resistant varieties, Blue Danube and Mira and Oca, were sown along with Cara, a Teagasc variety, described by Alan Romans as 'the red-eyed tough guy for the garden and allotment.' Also planted were some Oca, a South American tuber now being grown for seed commercially by Pat Fitzgerald of Fitzgerald Nursaries in nearbye Thomastown, generously donated along with with Sweet Potato plants to the SPUD project.
Beginning planting in Callan. Photograph Rosie Lynch 2015.
SPUD evening at Fennelly's Deirdre O'Mahony and Fennelly's curator Etaoin Hohalan. Photograph Rosie Lynch
An evening presentation of various potato based films and dishes including Crepes Parmentier, a dish invented by the great French pharmacist and scientist AA Parmentier and a fantastic potato pizza preceeded the planting, which marked the end of the first phase of O'Mahony's residency in Callan.
Deirdre O'Mahony, M.O.P.E. (Most Oppressed People Ever) seaweed and potato bread, produced for Callan Workhouse Union event 2015
Over 130 workhouses were built in Ireland and used to devastating effect in the exercise of bio-political power during the famine and a performative lecture subsequently addressed the material history of the building. The lecture traced the history of capital through the potato, concluding with a visit to the famine bowl in a disused corner of the building and finishing with two soups associated with famine times and the history of the workhouse; Quaker Soup and Soyer Soup. Both represent different ideological approaches to food aid, Soyer soup was designed to provide the minimum nutrition necessary to sustain a body for a day’s work, Quaker soup had significantly more food value and taste and was intended to sustain and maintain health. The soups were served with bread loaves made with potato and branded M.O.P.E. (Most Oppressed People Ever), a term coined in the 1990s to ridicule claims that the Irish were more ill-treated than any people at any time in history. In this context however, it was presented as a challenge to the ‘stuck’ narrative that post-crash, has become a default political position both in Ireland, and in Irish representations to Europe that Ireland was the victim, and pointed to the need to take responsibility for political failures, inequalities and injustices that were the legacy of a period of unsustainable consumption and excess.
SPUD Performative Lecture Callan Workhouse 2015 Photograph Brien Cregan.