Set in the Belfast Shipyard of the 1950s and against the backdrop of the IRA’s Border Campaign, Sam Thompson’s seminal 1960 play is a powerful exposé of Ulster’s sectarian bigotry and violence before the eruption of the Troubles.

Peter O’Boyle, a Catholic shipyard worker, has become the target of a vicious whispering campaign. Veteran Trade Unionist Davy Mitchell, a Protestant who has spent his life fighting for others’ right to work, is keen that the Union does what it can to protect him. As tensions mount and the union begins to split on sectarian lines, mob rule starts to take over…

First staged in Belfast in 1960, the play was produced against a backdrop of controversy when the Ulster Group Theatre withdrew it for being a play that ‘would give rise to sectarianism of an extreme nature’. Its original production, directed by James Ellis, and starring J. G. Devlin, Joseph Tomelty and Harry Towb, played to an audience of 42,000 people during the six-week run, far greater than had attended any play in Belfast previously. It was seen on tour in Dublin, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Brighton and the West End, and was adapted for both radio and television.

Described by The Irish Times as “a brickbat hurled violently against bigotry”, this Northern Irish classic continues to provoke uncomfortable questions about unity, tolerance and the rules we live by today.


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