National Lottery Nomination for We Were Brothers

Playwright Felicity McCall found inspiration in the Battle of Messines

Northern Irish writer Felicity McCall’s play We Were Brothers: A Shared History, has made it into the final three of the heritage category in the National Lottery Awards 2011. Having won through to the final, McCall is now eagerly awaiting the result in November. ‘The worst we can do is third place,' she laughs. 'That sounds pretty good to me.’

After working as a BBC staff journalist for 20 years, McCall embarked on a full-time writing career at the beginning of the millennium. She has published 12 books to date, which include fiction, drama, non-fiction and a graphic novel. She has also contributed to three anthologies and recently released her first short story collection, A Pitying of Doves.

We Were Brothers, her first play, focuses on the Battle of Messines during World War I when, on June 7, 1917 the Nationalist 16th Irish Division and the Unionist 36th Ulster Division fought together for the first time. It was during that battle that young John Meeke of the 36th Div. risked his life to save the severely wounded Major Willie Redmond of the 16th Div.

These two men, from very different traditions – sworn enemies in Ireland, but brothers in arms on a foreign battlefield – showed how they could come together to fight a common enemy. Writing about them, McCall examines how friendship and comradeship in adversity can put paid to historical animosities, temporarily at least.

McCall received £30,590 worth of funding from the National Lottery's Good Causes funding initiative to research her subject before putting pen to paper. The National Lottery Awards celebrate lottery-funded projects throughout the UK, and encompass everything from sports projects through to educational, environmental, charitable and artistic projects.

We Were Brothers falls into the heritage section of the awards, and is up against the Quilt Museum and Gallery in York and the recently refurbished Wentworth Castle and Stainborough Park in Yorkshire. Voting for the final opens on September 2 and the awards ceremony will be held in London.

‘It’s an amazing achievement,' beams McCall. 'The National Lottery Awards is a lovely recognition, and shows just how big a role the arts can play in larger projects. It also shows how therapeutic writing and drama really are.

'And it’s particularly great for all the young people involved,' says McCall, who produced a schools version of the play after it premiered in Northern Ireland in November 2009. 'I cannot praise the youth enough for their dedication and their historical insight during production,' she adds. 'These students took the play to a whole new level.'

Whilst working in schools across Northern Ireland, McCall saw how her play provided 'a tool for discussion among the students. They talked about modern wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and then about peace and reconciliation. They were inspired to move forward and and not dwell too much on the past.’

The Battle of Messines is certainly an emotive one, and McCall believes that it is an episode in history that future generations can learn from. 'It's interesting that the Queen and Irish President Mary McAleese both mentioned the battle of Messines in their speeches recently in Ireland,' McCall adds.

We Were Brothers is set to be staged again in November 2011, with performances in Strabane on Armistice Day, November 11, and at the Waterside Theatre in Derry~Londonderry on November 18.

The final round of public voting for the National Lottery Awards runs from September 2 – 26. All three finalists in each of the seven categories will be invited to a star-studded awards ceremony to be broadcast on BBC One in early November, where the results will be revealed.

Votes can be placed by calling 0844 836 9717 with calls costing no more than 5p, and you can also vote online at www.lotterygoodcauses.org/awards.