Observe the sons of Ulster marching towards the Somme (Frank McGuinness)

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The play centres on the experiences of eight unionist Ulstermen who volunteer to serve in the 36th (Ulster) Division at the beginning of the First World War. The story is told in a nostalgic flashback from the viewpoint of the only surviving soldier of the eight (now an unmarried old man). The play reaches a climax at the start of the terrible Battle of the Somme on July 1st, 1916 – the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 – in which the Ulster Division suffered heavy casualties. It explores how both the Boyne and the Somme have come to have a significant place in Northern Ireland unionist consciousness. Stylistically typical of McGuinness's art, the narrative also decentres the constructed ideals of homosocial institutions, such as the military. What is somewhat ironic and notable in the play is that, though the main character throughout the play (Kenneth Pyper) is from an upper-class background, he does not join the army as an officer. This suggests Pyper's unwillingness to be part of the aristocratic society and, as well, to challenge his homosexuality. This theory is confirmed through subtext conveyed by Pyper to his Protestant comrade and boyfriend.