More Than A Flag – East Belfast bandsmen poignantly look back at WW1 as the audience see potential #BelFest

More Than A Flag 14Twelve young guys who couldn’t be much older than twenty. Most with no acting experience. Some haven’t been in a theatre never mind standing on a stage. Bandsmen. Proud of their community, proud of their culture and their flag. Often derided, stereotyped, and written off.

Over the last couple of months, Dan Gordon has realised a long held dream and produced More Than A Flag, a powerful piece of community arts by Happenstance Theatre that will be premièred in the Ballymacarrett Orange Hall on the Albertbridge Road over the next three nights.

More Than A Flag 2x2Over ninety minutes, these young men remember local East Belfast men who served in the First World War. Watching last night’s dress rehearsal I found it incredibly poignant to see lads the same age as many of those went to war reading out names and addresses of fallen soldiers who came from streets only a stones throw from the venue. While it’s a celebration of service it’s not a celebration of war, with room in the production to explore the awfulness of the conflict and even those who deserted before being court martialed and shot.

No flutes or drums, but plenty of speeches, poems, acting, dance and songs. And hope. The transformation of twelve guys from bandsmen into actors … and by the end of the performance, bandsmen who are actors.

More Than A Flag 13Bandsmen. Proud of their community, proud of their culture and their flag. Talented and now celebrated, seen to be full of potential.

A quality production that looks back at the past, but also looks toward a bright future, playing at Belfast Festival for three nights only. Some tickets still available for the opening tonight if you phone the box office 028 9097 1197.

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  • Niall Chapman

    So essentially, these bandsmen have gone from marching and celebrating something they played no part in (Battle of the Boyne etc), to making a play to celebrate something they had no part in (World War One), it seems people are too focused on celebrating things which happened in the past that possibly their distant family or someone from their area achieved/helped to acheive, why not write an article encouraging these people to be pioneers in building a better country together without even mentioning orange and green, instead of harking back to1690 and 1916

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Niall, I think the point that Alan is making is that they are attempting to understand the event through a dramatic presentation. You’ll get my comments on the cynical use of history by politicians on other threads. This is quite different and should be properly situated against such ongoing excellent work as Philip Orr’s work to locate a non-triumpalist examination of such events in drama.

    Historical amnesia is the true problem. The ignorant annual celebration of 1688/9 where an entirely liberal king (see: Sowerby’s book “Making Tolerance”) was driven to exile by cynical supporters of intolerance used for private interest has attracted my own scorn on many other threads over the years. But pretending that these things did not happen is a recipe for more of the same. I’m all for remembering more rather than less, the full experience of historical events, and not simply a highly selective cartoon version, such as the 1690 repeat prescription we all know all too well. But I am certainly against any future rooted in the paper thin soil of the kind of historical suppression you appear to be recommending. Those who fail to remember their past are doomed to repeat it, as Santayana says.

    And hey, why is this contribution on “repeat”?

  • Granni Trixie

    I saw this event advertised and plan to see it tomorrow evening. It sounded like a really creative exercise – Alan has whetted my appetite even more.

  • Niall Chapman

    sorry for the repetition, have a dodgy internet connection so couldnt see if it had submitted, as regards “Those who fail to remember their past are doomed to repeat it” fair enough, I’m just fed up of the same old ground such as world war one and 1798 etc being celebrated in Unionist and republican circles

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Niall, me too with the “fed up”!! But this is probably one of the few exceptions to the dreary succession of Ulster Scots trougher events. And, about the tendency to score fantasies deeper into the collective imagination, I’m on record as sarcastically saying that “Irish history appears to have begun in 1798.” It would help if the sentimentality of looking to the United Irishmen as some sort of cross-community answer to the present was finally put to bed. The record of United Irishmen/Defender tensions and comments such as “when we’ve finished the ascendency we can deal with the Catholics” puts a lie to any grass roots commitment among the UI to the Rights of Man. Anyone honestly looking at any part of the past has me entirely supporting them, just as those perpetrating lies to the unwary will always get the lash of my tongue (or keyboard).

  • duplicate deleted!

  • Niall Chapman

    Havent read that much on the subject, and I’m not trying to write antagonistically, just genuinely curious, was it one of the UI who said “when we’ve finished the ascendency we can deal with the Catholics” as they are well known to have met in Kellys Cellars, which was and is a pebbles throw away from St Marys Church, a church paid for and built by protestants for the catholic minority.
    So if it was one of the UI, just wondering why they met in such a district, then again Belfasts districts may not have been so divided at the time

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Well, Niall, the “villages” built around incomers from various counties (IE: Sandy Row, South Armagh) had not yet taken shape for one thing. Also, the version of St Mary’s Inauguration in 1783 as its remembered is not accurate. The Church was funded by the First and Second Volunteer companies of Belfast. Both were virtually man for man members of Masonic Lodges where Catholic and Protestant met outside all of the madness of sectarianism. The First Company (the “Black” company) represented Lodge 257, while the “Blue” second company represented Lodge 272. In 1782 the First Company had been in the forefront of insisting that Catholics should be admitted to its ranks, so this was a process of emancipation rather than a single act of protestant philanthropy. And the honour guard that Father O’Donnell walked through would have been comprised of both Catholic and protestant volunteers. Incidentally, one of my own ancestors was in the second company that day.

    And, yes, the nice middle class UI of Belfast, such as the McCrackens, were similarly liberal, but the quote (which I’ve rather cleaned up) can be found in “Summer Soldiers” by A.T.Q. Stewart. Its from one of the UI rank and file, always a cussed, contrary lot in our poor benighted land.

    But I still feel that a great deal of pure sentimentality is poured into the image of a sort of perfect United Irishmen conciliation of traditions. It was never that simple.

  • Granni Trixie

    Don’t know much about Hist-Or-Ry….but I do know that I had a great night out at this event yesterday in the EB Orange Hall . It was a truely imaginative, dramatic performance. So good were the young men that I assumed some were professional singers/actors and well done Dan Gordon and all involved. I think it would go down well in settings such as the Whiterock too.
    People around me were very friendly and I felt I got a glimpse of loyalist culture – the union jack images on every available surface gave a clue.
    Maybe this is why I couldn’t help wondering was I the only taigue in the hall (sorry if this is sectarian thinking, just saying).

  • Actual History Actual Flag

    They have the false flag of Ulster on display which was never flown in 1914. It would help if the flags men actually fought for in 1914 (The Real Ulster flag and St Patrick’s cross of Ireland) were flown.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Indeed, it would help, but for this they would need to find funding to research historical accuracy. I recently put together some careful historical research for a re-enactment of the inauguration of St Mary’s Church in 1783, designing costume accurate to the very year, but such research requires the skills ofnot only an historian of events but of an historian, with specialisms also in material culture, luckily something I was able to offer. These skills are not not always found in one person in our age of specialism, so more than one specialist may become involved. This is not cheap! It’s not simply a matter of getting some flags right, ( I take it you are referring to the yellow field provincial Ulster flag? Please clarify if this is not so,) it requires a careful assembly of an entire cultural zeitgeist where all details integrate. I’ve done this for films and there is always something wrong, even in the most careful research.

    As I understand the performance, this was not something with open ended funding, and from what I’ve heard, it put on a fine show for those willing to accept such limitations. But yes, historical accuracy where this is possible…..

    Me? I’d have added stiff collars and 1914 cut tweed suits (although for accuracy, perhaps five or six year older styles would have been more accurate, as you can see in photographs, but, as I said, all this costs.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I’d been sent a rather true feminist quote from an old friend in San Francisco;


    But then I’ve long been a fan of the late Marija Gimbutas:

  • Tacapall

    Hi Seaan as usual your keen eye for an accurate historical perspective on our shared history brings out difficult questions for those who would defend the crown but your views on historical amnesia is certainly a problem for those from the loyalist rather than unionists community. Living an unrelenting groundhog day of celebrating past battles and wars they or their forefathers played no part in is not a good way to promote better relations with those they share this planet with never mind those they share this island with. There is no doubt the wealth of talent among some of those bandsmen seen during the marching seasons is world class, but as usual sinister people who work to a specific agenda exploit that talent and youthfulness to promote a history that is polished and redefined so intensely that its lost all originality.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I fully agree, Tacapall! I’m very interested, however, in Philip Orr’s excellent work to bring a truly accurate perspective on the Great War, usinf drama as well as talks. He has been unceasingly active to make his audiences aware of the complexity of our shared history as a community in those years, and I think this can do nothing but good in combatting the unrelentingly hagiographic nature of most “celebrations” of 1914 by the “usual sinister people who work to a specific agenda.” But I think we are almost certainly on the very same page with this one!

    Incidently, I know you are ever alert to the covert workings of political manipulation. Google the “Tavistock Institute” and note some of what comes up. I’m personally very interested in how “useful” patterns of inaccurate memory are psycologically encoded in a community, and my own training in psycology has led me to this particular possibility.