Published on Tuesday, September 20th 2016
News article on the play written by
Incredible WWI story of Catholic and Protestant from same street BY STEPHEN GAMBLE firstname.lastname@example.org @NewsletterSG
The incredible story of two men from the same Belfast street who fought in the First World War is to be told as part of a series of events commemorating the centenary of the Battle of the Somme.
‘Medal in the Drawer’, a production by Belfast playwright Dr Brenda Winter-Palmer, charts the real-life war journey of two volunteers – one Protestant and one Catholic – from west Belfast, who joined up to fight with the 36th Ulster Division.
For Brenda, this was a labour of love inspired by her personal connection to one of the brave men depicted in the play – her great uncle, Rifleman Willie Kerr.
She explained: “As a child I was always fascinated by a plaque that hung in the hallway of our Andersonstown home. It was inscribed with the name of William Kerr.
“When asked, my mother told me that it was a medal that her uncle had received for fighting in the First World War. “No one in her family had talked much about him. Indeed in the 1970s in west Belfast not very many people talked freely about family connections with the British Army.”
Medal in the Drawer shines a light on the fact that, in the midst of the Home Rule crisis, a time of great unrest between nationalists and unionists in Ireland, William Kerr, a west Belfast Catholic, chose to join Carson’s predominantly Unionist 36th Ulster Division, rather of one of the Irish regiments.
The young man enlisted almost immediately after the outbreak of war in 1914, along with Tom Martin, a Protestant who lived two doors away at Forthriver Gardens off the Springfield Road.
The pair joined the 14th (Young Citizen Volunteer) Battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles and were shipped off to the Western Front, from where neither would ever return.
Tom perished in a trench collapse in the lead up to the Somme, while William was killed in 1917 at Langemarck during the Third Battle of Ypres.
The play also features two entirely fictional characters, who are based upon the experiences of real people.
When she took on the daunting task of writing Medal in the Drawer, Brenda conceded that she knew comparatively little about the First World War. However, she did know about her ‘Uncle Willie’, and was keen to know more.
“For me the act of writing and directing Medal in the Drawer has been a reclamation of my family history which has never been properly commemorated,” she told the News Letter.
A former drama lecturer at Queen’s University, Brenda’s 35-year career as an actress, writer and director has spanned professional theatre, film and television.
She is now involved with the Living Legacies project, a new research centre based at Queen’s which provides a focal point for connecting academic and community researchers interested in how the First World War lives on in the 21st century world.
“I consider myself to be a historical dramatist, and researching and writing this play gave me a huge kick, as it allowed me to delve into my roots like never before,” Brenda said.
Now, following successful performances at the Brian Friel and Lyric theatres in Belfast, Medal in a Drawer is to feature as part of ‘Belfast Somme 100’, a programme of commemorative events marking the centenary of the Battle of the Somme.
For a full list of the dates and venues, and to book tickets, visit www.belfastsomme100.com
7th and 8th September 2016
Conference Centre in Lowell, Boston
News Lowell Conference
Remembering 1916: The Easter Rising, The Battle of the Somme and Impact on Lowell—A Public Engagement Conference
This conference was held at the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Centre in Lowell, Boston, on the September 7th & 8th. This conference was presented in partnership with Queen’s University Belfast and was an interdisciplinary look at remembering and commemorating the events of 1916 both in Northern Ireland and in Lowell.
The Centre for Irish Partnership has fostered collaborations and partnerships with institutions in Ireland and Northern Ireland. It’s slogan ‘A shared heritage, a shared future,’ runs along similar themes to the Living Legacies 1914-18 centre.
The conference featured many speakers from the Living Legacies Centre. Prof Keith Lilley introduced William Blair, keynote speaker on 'Remembering 1916: Legacy & Commemoration.' William covers the NMNI 1916 Programme and the issues surrounding the legacy of 1916 in contemporary Northern Irish society. William shared some evaluation of the exhibition which is mixed but highlights the passions of the memory of 1916 to both the Nationalist and Unionist communities.
Prof Keith Lilley telling the delegates about the Living Legacies Centre 1914-18 and outlines the services, support and funding we provide and highlighting some of the work the centre has undertaken.
Dr Kurt Taroff and Sophie Long, PhD Candidate at QUB, highlighted their community engagement work they have conducted in Northern Ireland through drama and research workshops.
Heather Montgomery illustrates how her research is revealing new understandingabout the standard of training Irish recruits received. Her work on recent excavations shows the extent of the training at Finner Camp in Co. Donegal and highlights features in the cultural landscape.
Fiona Byrne presented the community engagement work carried out in relation to preparing for the Remembering 1916: Your Stories exhibition. The talk featured a short video showing William Hunter and Margaret Hamilton tell their own family war stories. We met William and Margaret through Living Legacies community engagement.