Category Archives: The Arts

From The Shipyard To The Somme: A Review by Jason Bourke

Drama Review – From The Shipyard To The Somme

In the shadow of Samson & Goliath and in the heart of Ballymacarrett a poignant story was told was told over a six day period.  Somewhat unusually for a working class area such as inner-east Belfast this story was told via stage.
With a military-like precision the show began, similtaneously forcing patrons to their seats, Connswater Community Centre was now a theatre, we could have been sat in the West-End, nobody cared, the show was primary.
From the opening exchanges one was confronted with frequent bad language, far from a criticism however, the writer was clearly aware that this was a necessary inclusion to inject raw reality into the performance.  With this the audience had immediately made a connection with the stage, an early drunken rendition of ‘the auld orange flute’ strengthened that bond and immediately one could relate to the characters.
There were lashings of local humour as the opening scenes presented a troop of men belonging to the 8th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles of the 36th (Ulster) Division in their training camp near Dundrum Bay.  The men (and in some cases boys) seemed enthusiastic about what lay before them, in many ways they were the eager souls itching for a fight ever since their involvement with the Ulster Volunteers.
We were projected back to industrial Belfast at the turn of the 20th century and to the famous shipyards which provided so much for so many.  It was here that we got an insight into the political turmoil in Ulster and the rise of the Ulster Volunteer Force.
This drama was encapsulating, it gripped the audience with what seemed like relative ease, but making it look easy is the difficult part…
As the story progressed into the opening stages of the war it was evident that we were witnessing a microcosm of Belfast’s young men at that time, they were angry, and it seemed that politics had manufactured that anger.  At times they sailed treacherously close to a sectarian wind as young Gallagher found himself the only Catholic of the group but importantly amongst friends.
There appeared to be a genuine excitement within these men as they entered the theatre of war.  (Pardon the pun)  Youthful exhuberance is an often underestimated factor when considering the motives of a volunteer, these chaps signed up for adventure and were moulded into riflemen.
The story made a clear and deliberate distinction between the UVF and the service battalions of the British army, in many cases there was extensive overlap but it is clear that life in the British army was foreign (quite literally) to that of the UVF pre August 1914.
An atmospheric mood was cleverly generated by interjections of music both during and between scenes.  Stopping short of a ‘musical’ the occassional accompaniments certainly added to the show.
One thing in particular struck me during this performance and it was the profound innocent character of these men in the face of a truely awful war.  In a ‘Band of Brothers’ type fashion the audience had fostered a relationship with these passionate characters and by the time it had reached a crescendo it was increasingly obvious that a tragedy was on the horizon.
A line which resonated with me more than most was regarding a query concerning the proposed bombardment preceeding the infantry offensive at the Somme.  One soldier observed that the Somme offensive would be virtually dependant on a successful bombardment, his officer respoded “unfortunately Francis, it will”.
A harrowing slaughter on no-man’s land brought this drama to an almost tearful climax, they had brought their politics and their faith with them to the end.
Fintan Brady deserves immense credit for writing and executing this thoroughly professional performance, a performance which was charged with emotion from beginning to end.  Full marks to everyone involved.

From The Shipyard To The Somme.

From the Shipyard to the Somme


Officials from the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs were among a packed audience in the heart of east Belfast on Wednesday night to watch a new play about Ulster men who fought in the First World War.


From The Shipyard To The Somme will continue to run on until Saturday at the Connswater Community Centre off the Newtownards Road.

It was put together by the 36th (Ulster) Division Memorial Association in partnership with the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, and follows a group of Belfast men from the Home Rule crisis to the trenches of the Somme.

The two act play tells the story of a group of young men from the same streets in east Belfast, tracing their differing involvements with the fast moving and tumultuous events surrounding resistance to the Third Home Rule Bill and following them through the transformation of the UVF/YCV into the 36th (Ulster) Division and their deployment at the Somme in 1916.

Opening in a tent at “World’s End Camp” Ballykinler, on the May 6, 1915 as the 107th (Belfast) Brigade prepare to depart for the Divisional Review in Belfast before embarkation for France, to the long day and night of July 1-2 1916, as they push through the hell of mud and high explosives that lie between Thiepval Wood and the German fifth line.

Fintan Brady of Partisan Productions was the Artistic Director of the production.

Stephen Gough from the 36th (Ulster) Division Memorial Association said this was the organisation’s first step into the arts world and is a “major financial and cultural investment in east Belfast by the 36th (Ulster) Division Memorial Association at a time when the area has been making the headlines for all the wrong reasons”.

He said he felt Unionist history is largely ignored by the arts world.

It is hoped that the production will be able to be taken on tour across Northern Ireland, to the Republic of Ireland, as well as the mainland UK.

*From The Shipyard To The Somme will run at Connswater Community Centre on Severn Street until Saturday May 18, starting at 7.30pm with a matinee at 2.30pm. Admission is £5, with a reduction to £3 for pensioners while under 12’s are free.


Why A Peace Centre Can Help Us Move On: William Plum Smith


On the 28th March 2013, I had the privilege to introduce the launching of the Loyalist Ex-Prisoners Art Exhibition in Crumlin Road Gaol. I opened the occasion with the following speech.

“First of all on behalf of the Ex-Loyalist Prisoners Community I would like thank you all for coming to the initial the Launch of the Ex-Loyalist Prisoner Art Exhibition.

EPIC (Ex-Prisoners Interpretative Centre) is an organisation that represents the constituency of RHC/UVF Ex-Prisoners. Over the course of the conflict more that 10,000 Loyalists ended up incarcerated in the Prisons and Prison Camps of Northern Ireland and beyond. Almost every one of them passed through the gates of this prison at some time. Each one has their own story, their own experiences and each had their own way of dealing with the sentences handed down to them from the courts.  Many political prisoners took up various positive and constructive pastimes and careers while they were incarcerated including, music, arts, writing, handicrafts and education. Some, like Danny Strutt and Tommy Cull, were even more creative by designing their own early release scheme when they escaped from these walls in 1973.

Today we present a small example of the work of three ex-loyalist prisoners who took up art and honed their talents by painting and sketching their way through their years of imprisonment. Upon their release they continue to paint and sketch, some as a pastime and some as a profession.

Their art is also a record of their time in prison a pictorial history captured by vivid imagination captured by the stroke of a pencil or the swish of a brush. There is an ocean of talent and exhibits hidden within the wider ex-loyalist prisoner community and by launching this exhibition we hope to stimulate more of the ex-loyalist prisoner community to come forward and display whatever creativity or talent they developed while they were imprisoned during the conflict.

Today I can see ex- loyalist and ex-republican prisoners in the audience as well as the general public. I think both ex-prisoner communities can agree for the benefit of the general public that it certainly wasn’t like this when we were last in here. The samples of art you will see here covers over three decades of the conflict and a message and lesson to us all.

As 16th Anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement has just passed the beauty of these paintings and sketches also tells the story of thousands of young men, thousand more young families and loved ones who endured the suffering and penalties of incarceration during the course of the conflict. We must all tell our stories whether it be through art, literature, poetry or whatever medium so that future generations will never have to endure the suffrage of our generation.”

The Launch was attended by over 100 people and was on display for 4 weeks during which time 200 people viewed the exhibition. Seven Thousand Tourists visiting the Gaol for tours also were able to view the exhibition. Every comment from people from Northern Ireland and all around the World were positive and praiseworthy.

EPIC is a non-political organisation and will continue to collect stories, artefacts and promote the positivity of the ex-Loyalist prisoner community. I would encourage all ex-loyalist prisoners to come forward to their relevant bodies with any references or accounts of their experiences and opinions while they have been incarcerated over the decades of the conflict. The 10,000 ex-loyalist prisoners and the 40,000 plus families and loved ones who made that weekly trek to Crumlin Road, Magilligan, Long Kesh and the Maze must make sure that their experiences are not airbrushed or minimised from the annals of history, propaganda or political manipulation. That appeal also goes out to Prison Officers, Soldiers, Policemen, Victims and General Society. Everyone must be afforded the avenue and ability to express their feelings in a mature and constructive manner.

However, as we must remember the past and we must not forget the past, also the greater must is that the future must not be held hostage to the past. The unscrupulous politicians and opportunists who deliberately create a kneejerk reaction to every imagined and real emotion offer nothing to our children or the future.

Our youth and our children are our future and they must supersede the anguish of the past. The millstone of the past must be lifted from around our children’s necks by us the adults from whatever community, the politicians from whatever political party or we all become complicit in condemning future generations to a purgatorial country with a past but no future.






Loyalist Ex Prisoners Art Exhibition

Pictured here is one of the many fine paintings by an ex UVF/RHC prisoner.  It is part of an extensive collection of similar works of art which form the basis of the inaugural  Epic Exhibition due to take place in Crumlin Road Gaol on Thursday 28th March at 12 noon.  On show will be a number of paintings and sketches showcasing 3 exceptional artists and covering many years on incarceration particularly in Long Kesh Compounds and Blocks.  This is a not to be missed exhibition and one that we are sure will prove popular and successful–which will enable Epic to replicate in the future.


Return The Standard

Return The Standard

Hoist up the Standard high o’er Belfast’s City Hall

“Let’s see the colours fly” will be our battle call

Dare those oppose or block our road-for we shall see them fall

Raise the Union Flag aloft –Rally!!—One and All.

No more we’ll dance a sprightly jig to the Piper’s merry air

Leading into cul de sacs of rejection and despair

No more we’ll blindly place our “X” next imposters names

And refuse to be the scapegoats when they’re laying out the blame.

Protest, support and demonstrate to restore what’s rightly Ours

Don’t hesitate nor vacillate in Ulster’s darkening hours

It’s the People’s right to use their might to keep what’s just and true

Reinstate the Jack-give us back-our old Red White and Blue


The Grand Old Duke of York…and Us.

Charlie Freel sends his latest poetic offering.  An acerbic comment on a pivotal moment in Paisley’s early career that somewhat debunks that particular myth.                




Do you remember Sixty Four? Were you there?

In the big man’s agitation, did you share?

Did you converge on Divis Street, from the North, West, South or East?

Did you obey the Grand Old Duke, were you there?


To remove that bloody treacherous rag, he called us out.

He pledged it would not fly, old Ulster’s laws to flout.

But while we marched on Divis Street, the enemy to meet.

The Grand Old Duke stopped short, outside the City Hall.


We were all disowned next day, as he washed his hands.

He declared riots in Divis Street, were not his plan.

He claimed to have made a simple call, to protest at City Hall,

And then march us all, back down the hill again.    And again and again and yet again.

Until that bloodstained treacherous old rag, finally earned him all the power he craved.



The Past Is All He Has

Another fine little poem by regular contributor, Charlie Freel.  Judging by all his previous poems I feel it is time that Charlie compiled them into a book.  This is just the latest in the line of many excellent pieces.


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New Book Of Poems by Ex-Prisoner

Next week sees the launch of a new poetry booklet.  Written by Beano Niblock the book contains 13 original poems and is titled The Battle at Oldbridge and other poems.  A number of the poems have previously appeared on this website and each poem is accompanied by a precis explaining a little of the subject matter.


To Guard Old Derrys Walls

Another poem in the continuing series by ex-prisoners.  Here the writer graphically describes the conditions endured by those who suffered during the hundred odd days of the siege where the majority of the casualties died through either starvation or disease.




Shadow Dancer: The Murky World of Espionage

A film dealing with the shady world of espionage and dirty dealings during the conflict.  Starring Clive Owen as a handler the film has been receiving mixed reviews as you can see here–from two people who may have a more accurate insight than most.


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