Black Watch returns to Belfast

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The Black Watch, one of the toughest regiments ever to come out of Scotland, has just returned to Belfast not in the form of foot patrols inching along dangerous city streets but in the shape of a compelling drama.

The play Black Watch was staged, to standing ovations, in a modern school in north Belfast, which was for decades probably the most violent district in Northern Ireland as the army fought the IRA. Both the military and the paramilitary lost many members; now today both have left the Belfast scene.



The real Black Watch has also gone, subsumed into another regiment. But the play has won many awards and accolades for its depiction of young Scotsmen at war, in this case in Iraq, and showing the world of the universal soldier.



In the early 70s the regiment's reputation and instantly recognisable feathered bonnet made them attract particular attention in republican parts of Belfast.



"I would have to say that we enjoyed seeing the Glengarrys appearing," a former schoolboy rioter, now a respected figure in the city, said very privately. "This was because they made for soft targets. Our strike rate always went up. Some of the others tended to wear helmets, which presented us with more of a challenge."



The National Theatre of Scotland production, which close in Belfast on Sunday, did not bring old adversaries together: the audience was very much made up of the middle class, well-mannered and respectable.



But the show did produce one remarkable reaction, from left-wing activist Eamonn McCann. As chairman of the Bloody Sunday Trust, he has devoted years to condemning the actions of paratroopers in Londonderry in 1972.



But the performance was so full of depth and dazzling inventiveness that even Mr McCann, obviously no friend of the army, was caught up in the strong emotions it generated.



In a panel discussion afterwards he admitted: "I never thought that I'd see something about the Black Watch regiment which made the tears brim in my eyes, but they did.



"That really surprised me. And it overwhelmed politics for me, because I could see it with my politics in the background and it didn't in any way at all damage the experience."



The play was a huge success when it was first performed in 2006 but the surprise has been that it has been so successful for so long. This is partly because of the strength of the production, which the audiences in Belfast, as elsewhere, acclaimed with standing ovations.



But its enduring popularity is also due to its continuing relevance as the British army has seen years of action in Iraq and Afghanistan. The wars may change but the experience of individual soldiers is entirely transferable.



Even though the play features stylised sequences of song and dance, it is telling because it concentrates on the human element, the fortunes of ten young recruits from the Fife and Tayside region of Scotland.



For many in their tough district joining the Black Watch has been part of their heritage, stretching back for centuries, to the Napoleonic wars and beyond.



The writer, Gregory Burke, who is from the area, said military recruitment fell off some years ago "but now it's completely jam-packed because of the recession - they're turning folk away now."



In the panel discussion John Moore, an English ex-soldier who was paralysed in a south Armagh IRA ambush in which his friend died, confirmed the play's point that in combat soldiers fight primarily for their colleagues and their unit.



"That's absolutely true," he said. "You're doing it for your mates or you're doing it for yourself. It was not for Queen and country for me - that's not a very patriotic thing to say but that is the truth."



He recalled that patrolling in the IRA's south Armagh heartland of Crossmaglen, where the Black Watch had been stationed, had been eerie as well as dangerous. "People would try their damnedest to ignore you," he remembered.



"They would totally blank you - you had this feeling of being like a ghost in a movie."



The regiment lost several men in Northern Ireland and in the 1970s was involved in controversy when a patrol shot dead a 17 year old postman. They claimed he was a gunman, but the authorities later acknowledged he was an innocent party and paid compensation to his family.



No soldiers were prosecuted, although some members of the patrol were imprisoned for planting ammunition. By comparison with other units, however, the Black Watch did not often hit the headlines.



A veteran journalist this week: "I remember the postman's death as being especially gratuitous but overall the Black Watch's fierce reputation wasn't matched by their conduct. They were generally small-town Scots - not Rangers fans with guns."



The now respectable one-time rioter remembered: "In nationalist minds soldiers involved in raids couldn't be Celtic supporters - therefore they were all Rangers fans and consequently hated. They returned hate with hate, venom with venom.



"It was only many years later that I discovered the Black Watch were religiously mixed - it came as a shock."



The drama, as Eamonn McCann wonderingly observed, has an amazing breadth of appeal, attracting praise from both the Socialist Worker and the Daily Telegraph.



The Black Watch revisited Belfast in the form of actors showing the human side of war in Iraq. The Northern Ireland bases where they served many tours of duty have largely gone now, in many cases to be replaced by modern homes and other buildings.



Almost always there is no remaining trace - apart from in the memory of locals and former soldiers - that these were the scene of countless sniper attacks and machine-gun and rocket assaults.



Elsewhere in the world, though, the business of soldiering goes on. Belfast may be largely at peace but there are many other conflicts, and many other Scotsmen willing to join up to take part of them. But, just for a few dramatic days, Belfast once again became a theatre of war.

Black Watchcan be seen at London’s Barbican from 27th Nov – 22nd Jan, 2011. Booking: 020 7638 8891/ barbican.org.uk

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
Gary Lineker at the UK Premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from
film
Arts and Entertainment
Johhny Cash in 1969
musicDyess Colony, where singer grew up in Depression-era Arkansas, opens to the public
Arts and Entertainment
Army dreamers: Randy Couture, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tvReview: It's not going to set the comedy world alight but it's a gentle evening watch
Arts and Entertainment
Umar Ahmed and Kiran Sonia Sawar in ‘My Name Is...’
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
This year's Big Brother champion Helen Wood
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Full company in Ustinov's Studio's Bad Jews
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Harari Guido photographed Kate Bush over the course of 11 years
Music
Arts and Entertainment
Reviews have not been good for Jonathan Liebesman’s take on the much loved eighties cartoon
Film

A The film has amassed an estimated $28.7 million in its opening weekend

Arts and Entertainment
Untwitterably yours: Singer Morrissey has said he doesn't have a twitter account
Music

A statement was published on his fansite, True To You, following release of new album

Arts and Entertainment
Full throttle: Philip Seymour Hoffman and John Turturro in God's Pocket
film
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie Minogue is expected to return to Neighbours for thirtieth anniversary special
tv
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be Lonely Island's second Hollywood venture following their 2007 film Hot Rod
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Day-Lewis stars in the movie There Will Be Blood
music
Arts and Entertainment
Brush with greatness: the artist Norman Cornish in 1999
art
Life and Style
Stress less: relaxation techniques can help focus the mind and put problems in context
art
Arts and Entertainment

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
    Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

    But could his predictions of war do the same?
    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

    Young at hort

    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

    Beyond a joke

    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

    A wild night out

    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

    It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
    Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

    Besiktas vs Arsenal

    Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

    The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

    Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment