- 26-06-2015 to 28-06-2015 - QUB Drama Students head north to 'the Bay of the Tigers' and south to the 'Town of the Book'!
- 25-06-2015 - AHRC Connected Communities Festival 2015 - Arts for All WW1 Mural Launch, Tiger's Bay
- 25-06-2015 - Music and Memories: Remembering the First World War with music and objects
- 23-06-2015 - AHRC Connected Communities Festival 2015 - Exploring the First World War at the Ulster Museum with Upperlands Community Development
- 22-06-2015 - AHRC Connected Communities Festival 2015 - 'From the Falls to the Shankill - a walking tour on the history of UVF members from 1913-14 who served in the Great War'
- 08-06-2015 - AHRC Connected Communities Festival 2015 - East Belfast & The Great War
- 01-06-2015 - AHRC Connected Communities Festival 2015
In the final weeks of June the cast of the First World War play Medal in the Drawer, written by Drama Lecturer Brenda Winter-Palmer, assembled once more to move on to the next stage of the project, now renamed the Medals all Around Community Drama Initiative . Since its first performances in the Brian Friel Theatre in May 2014 the cast of the play have been engaged in travelling all over Northern Ireland to perform scenes from the play in community and civic venues, schools, libraries, and museums. So far the play and its accompanying workshop, in which the characters are 'hot-seated' in role by the audience, has played to 1250 people. Response to this outreach programme has been overwhelmingly positive and has further convinced us that there is a real role for the play, and drama methods in general, in stimulating community groups to research, create and stage their own stories.
Touring the original full length drama, with its realistic reconstruction of a trench was always out of the question. It would have been far too expensive and would not have fitted into to the kind of community venues which we wanted to reach. Accordingly the mission was on to formulate a 35 minute long, pared down production which could play in all kinds of venues. It was surprisingly easy to transform the 90 minutes of the original script into a portable 'pop-up' performance which conveyed the personal journeys of 4 young Belfast Men who went to fight in 1915. But both writer and cast were unsure if it would maintain the emotional impact of the original promenade production. We were fortunate to have two prestigious invitations to perform at the end of June which would let us see how well the concept worked both in a community and theatre settings.
Our first outing was in helping to launch a new First World War Mural in the Tiger's Bay area of North Belfast as part of the Arts and Humanities Research Council Connected Communities Festival. The rapt attention of the audience and the lively debate provoked in the after-show discussion indicated that the potted version of the performance had its own strength in providing a more intense and intimate experience for the audience. The passion of the engagement between actors and audience in the hot-seating exercise confirmed two things: firstly, that in areas designated as predominantly Protestant/Unionist/Loyalist in Northern Ireland the heritage of the First World War is current, vital and deeply-revered, and that secondly, this audience was totally prepared to suspend disbelief and question the actors in role as if they were real Belfast Tommies re-embodied in the room.
Two days later Medal headed south for its first foray over the border. The invitation to perform at the prestigious Hay Literary Festival in Kells County Meath meant that we would be sharing a platform with luminaries such as the poet Paul Durcan, musician and writer Paul Eno, television dramatist, Lynda La Plante, historian Diarmuid Ferriter and Booker Prize Winner Ben Okri. No pressure there then! We were also a bit worried about whether the very Northern Irish focus of the play would resonate with a predominantly Southern audience.
There was no need to worry! The play was received very warmly and the post-show discussion revealed amongst the audience an enduring consciousness of the service of relatives who fought in the First World War, despite over ninety years of the Republic's state-condoned erasure of such histories. Audience members spoke movingly of grand-fathers and great-uncles whose service, up until recent years, could only be mentioned in whispers for fear of the censure of neighbours horrified by any military association with the departed British colonial power. The willingness of those present to finally name and own these histories was palpable. By the end of the event it was clear that the emotional attachment to the memory of these men and women was as deeply felt in rural, Meath as it was in the PUL heartlands of Belfast's Tiger's Bay.
These two events in their different, yet interrelated ways, suggest that on the island of Ireland there is the interest and will within local and community groups to reclaim and tell their own stories of the First World War. It is hoped that Medal in the Drawer and can help to spear- head and support such initiatives through the medium of drama during the remainder of the Centenary and beyond.
Myles Dungan, of the Hay Festival Kells Committee writes:
Medal in the Drawer was invited to the 2015 Hay/Kells Festival as an element of our 'Reconciliation Strand' which was part- funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs Reconciliation Fund. So the play became an integral part of four events which also included a debate involving Jeffrey Donaldson MP and Mitchel McLaughlin MLA, and talks by East Belfast Irish language teacher Linda Ervine and Glencree Reconciliation Director Eamon Rafter.
The play was a reminder of the historical and commemorative context of the strand and played to an enthusiastic and engaged audience. The script and performances were of the highest calibre and the reaction to the play itself was extremely positive. The question and answer session that followed the show demonstrated the level of engagement of the audience and their clear enjoyment of the poignant drama they had just witnessed. In this context Medal in the Drawer is a hugely valuable addition to the Decade of Commemoration and a reminder to Southern Irish nationalists of one of the many bases of the culture of Northern unionism, just as it undoubtedly serves as a reminder to Northern Unionists that their nationalist compatriots played a vital part in the tragedy that was the Great War.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION ON MEDAL IN THE DRAWER SEE www.medalinthedrawer.com
We were delighted to support the project, and the official launch of the mural, and so too, were the local residents of the area. The venue, Duncairn Community Centre, hosted an interested, local audience, and the event began with a 30 min performance from 'Medal in the Drawer', a play written by Dr. Winter-Palmer, on the legacy of her Uncle's war medals in a difficult, post-war setting.
Following the performance, the actors, who have been trained in drama facilitation, answered questions whilst in character. The audience participated enthusiastically, and some vibrant discussion took place around the Unionist-Nationalist readings of the War.
We then gathered outside, where historian Phillip Orr provided some context on the mural, and explained that it provided a more nuanced portrayal of what the War meant to those in Belfast, and moved beyond militaristic commemorations, as is often the case.
Deputy Lord Mayor Guy Spence then formally launched the mural, and we highly recommend you visit the area in order to see it. A mural depicting the Belfast Blitz is situated just around the corner.
Northern Visions NvTv on Vimeo recorded a short extract "Focal Point Monday 29 June 2015" from on the night
The video is available for your viewing pleasure at https://vimeo.com/132106464
‘The music invaded my bones’
At Music and Memories: Remembering the First World War with music and objects, held at the Inniskillings Museum on the 25 June 2015, participants had the opportunity to explore the legacy of the period in a way that for many was new. Such was the demand for the event and we had to offer three sessions, two for the public and one for students from Devenish College. In every case, participants were mesmerised by the music and storytelling.
The talented musician Tracey McRory shared the poignant and sometimes harrowing stories of individuals who went to the front. One concerned Bernard McGeehan, a traumatised young man who originally signed up to care for horses and was later shot at dawn for being a ‘worthless soldier’. On the fiddle, Tracey then played ‘Bernard’, a piece she wrote in dedication to his memory.
After music the groups received a tour of the First World War collections in the Inniskillings Museum, led by Museum Assistant Natasha Martin. The event concluded with informal discussions (over coffee and tray bakes) between participants, Elizabeth Crooke and Johanne Devlin Trew from Living Legacies. What was clear in the discussions was that the stories, combined with the music, enabled a deeper reflection on how war impacted on individuals and communities.
The participant feedback is testimony to the success of the day:
- ‘super approach … and innovative way to convey the experience and reality of the First World War’
- ‘very moving … superb afternoon’
- ‘a wonderful experience … today’s event was very moving and I would like to thank all involved’
- Thank you for such a delighted walk through history and people and words and music’
- ‘this was a very memorable experience. The music invaded my bones … fascinating, informative, inspirational’
- 'A wonderful afternoon. What an experience’
- ‘our guide Natasha was outstanding’
Elizabeth and Johanne at Living Legacies would like to thank Neil Armstrong, Curator Inniskillings Museum, for allowing us host this event at the museum. We are most grateful to Tracey McRory for accepting the invitation to play. We would also like to thank Natasha Martin for handling all the booking arrangements and for providing a tour of the First World War collections.
A video excerpt of the event at the Inniskillings Museum in Enniskillen on June 25 2015.
I have selected two excerpts: the first features Tracey MacRory showing the chalice which belonged to her great-uncle, Father James MacRory from Dunree, Donegal who was a chaplain with the Connaught Rangers and wounded at Paschendaele in 1917, later serving in Flanders and Mesopotamia. Tracey plays a slow air on the fiddle entitled, In their darkest hour, which she composed in honour of the chaplains who served in WW1.
At 9:18, she plays on the harp a piece she composed entitled Bernard, in memory of Bernard Mageean, from Dunree, Donegal, who was shot a dawn for a minor offence, and as part of the Shot at Dawn campaign was pardoned in 2006 by Queen Elizabeth.
As part of the AHRC Connected Communities Festival and supported by the Living Legacies Centre a group of pensioners from Upperlands Community Development Group visited the Ulster Museum on Tuesday 23rd June to discover more about the First World War and its legacies.
They brought with them many photographs and other objects relating to their own First World War histories. Objects were digitised and stories were recorded by the Centre of Data Digitisation & Analysis.
One lady had brought her father’s medals with her and did not know anything about them. We were able to explain the different war campaign medals to her and that one of the medals was the Military Medal for act of bravery. She got quite emotional and said how proud she was of him even though she doesn’t know yet what the act of bravery was. Most of the people in the group had First World War stories and were eager to share them.
The group who had never visited the Ulster Museum before had the opportunity to explore the museum’s new Modern History gallery and received a tour of the Home Rule to Partition section. After lunch the group participated in the First World War handling session where themes of Home Front, soldier’s life abroad and medical developments were examined.
What did you like most about the workshop and tour today?
What did you like least about the workshop and tour today?
Did you learn anything new today? If so, what did you learn?
Which object/s impacted you the most? Why?
Any other comments?
The day began with a talk at Cultúrlann on the Falls Road, from Prof. Richard Grayson, whose research on the UVF provided the data on which the walk is based. The walk then passed by the homes of 14 men who were in the UVF in 1913-14 and saw action on a range of fronts during the war. The tour included impromptu stops at First World War-related murals and other sites of interest such as the Shankill graveyard.
Throughout the day, attention was paid to the significant number of ex-UVF members who served outside the 36th (Ulster) Division, some of whom lived in the Falls. Stops included: Cupar Street, Conway Street, Canmore Street, Argyle Street, Cambrai Street and Enfield Street. For further information, see:
In due course, further information will be added from Richard Grayson’s database, and will also be sought from members of the public.
We are very grateful to John Dougan for providing many of the photographs of individuals used in this project, from the J & C Dougan Great War Index.
Comment from a participant
‘We had a great day, my Dad and I really enjoyed it, and it was great to get sometime away and with him too, and also meet with some people of his peer group and age, all of whom would have had family relatives, alive from that time and period. The presentation and character detail from Prof. Richard Grayson, I felt was pitched very well and at the right level and context. It really did bring to life the human impact of the period... as opposed to a text book etc...and his research and finer detail was exceptional, but also well balanced.
I am already looking forward to more sessions from the Living Legacies programme, and would be very interested to hear from you regarding these also. Please do not hesitate to contact me and once again thank you very much for your hospitality and a great day out... it really exceeded our expectations’.
AHRC Connected Communities Festival 2015
Suppported by the
Living Legacies 1914-18 Engagement Centre
The Living Legacies 1914-18 Engagement Centre are delighted to announce the launch of our AHRC-funded, Connected Communities festival programme. Connected Communities is a "cross-Council programme designed to help us understand the changing nature of communities in their historical and cultural contexts and the role of communities in sustaining and enhancing our quality of life." Further information on the vision and scope of the programme is available here
This festival, which features community-academic engagement events across the North, South, East and West of our capital city, will run during June 2015, and feature a range of public activities, which seek to both increase public engagement with the War, and broaden existing understandings of the impact and legacy of the War.
East Belfast and the Great War – WW1 Roadshow Event.
6th June, East Belfast Network Centre, Templemore Avenue, East Belfast
A day of films, music, artefacts and community explorations of local WWI legacies where communities and researchers will come together to share knowledge through the work of a Heritage Lottery Funded project on ‘East Belfast and the Great War’.
The event will run from 10.00am until 3.00pm. For further details please click this link
'From the Falls to the Shankill - A walking tour on the history of the UVF members from 1913-14 who served in the Great War'.
20th June, An Chulturlann, West Belfast
Using digital technology, this interactive event features a walking tour with Prof. Richard Grayson (author of ‘Belfast Boys’), focusing on around a dozen men who served in the British army in WWI and who were members of the pre-war UVF, some from the Shankill and some from the Falls.
The event will run from 10.30am until 3.00pm. For further details please click this link
National Museum Northern Ireland – First World War tour and workshop at the Ulster Museum.
23rd June, Ulster Museum, South Belfast
Exploring the past in a museum setting: participants will enjoy a special guided tour of the Ulster Museum’s new Modern History Gallery before taking part in an object handling workshop, to look in detail at how WW1 objects of the past connect with the present.
For further details please click this link
Arts for All - Mural exploring the years 1914-1918.
25th June, Tiger's Bay, North Belfast
This event involves both the launch of a new WW1 mural and a piece of interactive drama/performance from ‘Medal in the Drawer’ by Dr. Brenda Winter-Palmer, a play set among the trenches of the Western Front as well as the streets of wartime Belfast.
For further details please click this link
Should you be interested in attending any of these events, please contact Living Legacies 1914-18 at LivingLegacies@qub.ac.uk.
The West Belfast Walking Tour has a limited number of places available, so registration using the above email is essential.