16 June 2024

New folk musical tells the poignant story of Sarah Birch

by Terry Bearpark

A newly formed entertainment group set up in South Holderness is hoping to take its first production on tour locally and eventually to Ireland after its first performance in Withernsea.

The Beggar’s Folk Club Music Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation set up by Bob Parkes, Paul Pike and Kevin Young to encourage the arts in this region.

Rehearsals are under way for the group’s first production, Sarah (Life Turned Her That Way), a true English/Irish story told through music, songs, dance, drama visuals and narration. The songs are a mixture of traditional ballads and numbers written by members of the cast.

The folk opera tells the poignant story of Sarah Birch. Born in 1801 in Broadstairs, Kent, she was abducted and seduced as a teenager by a wealthy profligate named Meredith from Ireland and taken to Dublin where she was abandoned together with her infant son.

After years of streetwise destitution Sarah met and married Edmund Kelly, a wealthy attorney and land agent 35 years her senior, from Kiltoom in County Roscommon. On his death in 1845 she inherited his vast wealth but had to endure years of litigation in Irish courts before his will was proved in her favour. A harsh and cruel but able landlord, she carried out several evictions of her tenants and was murdered at Ballinderry in County Westmeath in 1856.

In this factual and fascinating account of her life the story does not end with Sarah Kelly’s death, and the varying fortunes of the relatives from Kent who inherited her houses and estates in Ireland have been followed right up to the present day.

The première will be performed at St Matthew’s Church in Hull Road, Withernsea, on Friday, March 8, and Saturday, March 9, with both performances starting at 7pm. Admission is free but tickets should be obtained by telephoning or texting 07710 049123, and donations will be welcomed.

The foundation’s cast includes Stuart Mcleod and Lesley Curtis of Oakleas Rise, Anne Rees, Andreya Young, Jim Blake, Bob Parkes, Paul Pike, Roger Nunn, John Rees and Kevin Young.

Ruby Red and her children will be singing, dancing and acting along with Janet Farrah.

The creation and direction has been a joint effort by the entire cast, led by Kevin Young.

A CD of all the songs and narration will be available at the performances and both shows will be filmed.

Local artist Kenny Fowler has painted 11 scenes depicting the story of Sarah and these will be projected on to a larch backdrop during the performances.