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Groundbreakers: In the Shadow of the Shipyard on BBC NI

Date Posted: May 10, 2016

Often cited as the founding father of modern Northern Ireland drama, Ballymacarret-born St John Greer Ervine (1883 – 1971) gave a voice to early 20th century urban and rural Ulster with his groundbreaking plays, including Boyd’s Shop and Mixed Marriage.

Ervine is one of four Belfast writers whose work is explored by actor Dan Gordon in the first programme in the new series of Groundbreakers, which begins on Sunday 15 May, on BBC Two Northern Ireland, at 9.30pm.

Groundbreakers: In The Shadow of the Shipyard sees Gordon – an east Belfast native – considering how the four writers absorbed the experiences of Belfast’s working class communities and brought their voices to a wider audience

Sam Thompson (1916 – 1965), also from Ballymacarret, was a trade unionist who challenged the unionist establishment with one of the most controversial plays of the 1960s – Over the Bridge, which told of sectarianism in the Harland and Wolff shipyard.

Poet and playwright Thomas Carnduff (1886 – 1956) from Sandy Row in the city, worked in a variety of unskilled jobs before finding permanent work as a shipyard labourer and then as a caretaker in Belfast’s Linen Hall Library.

Unusually for a man of his background, Carnduff regularly frequented public libraries and was a prolific writer. His poetry and plays such as Songs of the Shipyard and Workers,dramatised the lives of working class Belfast people during the 1930s recession.

Stewart Parker (1941 – 1988) gave a voice to a new generation in the 1970s and 1980s, and is regarded as the major Belfast playwright of the Troubles.

Born in Sydenham, his work is strongly rooted in a Belfast troubled by the ghosts of its past and present. His plays including The Iceberg, Spokesong and Northern Star, received widespread acclaim and awards.

As well as highlighting the lives and work of these four writers, Groundbreakers: In the Shadow of the Shipyard also provides a fascinating insight into life in Belfast through the 20th century.

Archive photographs and film footage help bring to life the people and the environment these writers found so inspiring.

Groundbreakers: In the Shadow of the Shipyard is a DoubleBand production for BBC Northern Ireland and was made with funding from Northern Ireland Screen’s Ulster-Scots Broadcast Fund.

The film is part of BBC Northern Ireland’s Groundbreakers season – a series of programmes telling the stories of the extraordinary lives led by people, some of whom changed the world as we know it, some, the course of history and others, the lives and circumstances of those around them.

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