Poorhouse

Published in Issue 1 (Spring 1996), News, News, The Famine, Volume 4

Currently in pre-production, Poorhouse is a half-hour drama set during the period of the Great Famine. The film is co-written and directed by Frank Stapelton and adapted from a story by Michael Harding. The film’s plot concerns the relationship between an elderly gravedigger at the workhouse and a young pregnant woman who arrives there from the ‘big house’ in disgrace.
According to producer Catherine Tiernan of Ocean Films, Poorhouse is not a ‘famine film’ in the sense that it does not have a chronological narrative from 1845 to 1849. The Famine merely provides the backdrop to the central story. The film offers an exploration of ancestral memories rather than an explanation of the Famine itself.
In order to research the background to the story. Michael Harding used the Journals of the Master of Lisnaskee Workhouse in County Fermanagh. The film itself was shot entirely in the Bawnboy workhouse, County Cavan. It had a capacity for 500 but during the Famine that number would have doubled. The original dormitaries, water pumps, laundry and bakery are all still there, as are the original timber window frames. One wing had subsequently been used as a fever hospital, another as a chapel complete with stain glass windows, while a third had been painted a lurid pink and yellow for use as a dancehall! Nonetheless filming there was quite an eerie experience according to Catherine Tiernan. Poorhouse is an Ocean Films production and will be broadcast on RTE during the Easter period.

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