A Silent War: Blackout



Larne, The Royal Victoria Hospital





03min 21sec





black and white


Northern Ireland Screen's Digital Film Archive


BEAMA, Department for Communities, Northern Ireland Screen, Ray Givans, Ross Thompson

Rights Holder

Mrs Lindy Reid, Northern Ireland Screen, Ross Thompson, Spence Brothers

It is illegal to download, copy, print or otherwise utilise in any other form this material, without written consent from the copyright holder.


Blackout forms part of A Silent War, a Covid-response poetry project instigated by Ross Thompson during the first lockdown. Drawing comparisons between the poet’s parental experiences of the Blitz, and the fear and paranoia induced by the pandemic, Blackout offers an alternative kind of war poetry. As part of the project, creative practitioners from BEAMA made a new soundtrack and drew from Northern Ireland Screen’s Digital Film Archive to produce an audio-visual work responding to the original poem, read by Ray Givans. The resulting film is replete with expressive sound and intense imagery, drawing on the work of independent filmmakers, and featuring nightmarish extracts from Roy Spence’s The Testament of Caleb Meeke (1969), and Archie Reid’s The Boat Train(1963). 

Check out the 'Related Videos' below to watch the original archive films.


Blackout by Ross Thompson, written in Bangor during 2020 Lockdown

An eerie sort of shutdown, a form of solar eclipse 
that brings to mind parental stories concerning the Blitz: 
how, at the sound of an ululating klaxon, they hurried 
to the cramped and dank space beneath the stairs, where they worried 
that the sky would fall in an avalanche of planks and bricks. 

You were for so long petrified of being in the dark: 
plagued by nightmares of werewolves, atomic bombs, snakes and sharks, 
and that slow vision of your hometown bleached pale of colour 
where families and neighbours did not speak to each other, 
ring-fenced by silence. No birdsong. No sharing of the heart’s 

longing for reciprocal warmth. Petals shrinking on flowers. 
A faulty circuit board. Lights snapping shut during a power 
cut. And then, that dream actualised, made flesh: cafés, pools, 
cinemas dark as country ditches; hair salons, parks, schools 
empty as cracked pitchers; churches, like unheard signal towers, 

broadcasting to vacant stations; bookstores and restaurants 
a grim tapestry of roller shutters and locked shopfronts. 
Fetching necessary groceries involved a sortie 
of precision planning: a trench run through starless quarries 
where the scent of danger leapt from every surface. Once 

you returned, your uniform had to be burned; your rank, name 
and raid redacted. You were not laid like cards on a game 
table nor arranged like beads in a kinetic cradle 
but jettisoned like pearls from a broken string, unable 
to tether to the thing that held us before we became 
lost in wherever here is… tundra, no man’s land, unclaimed 
ground, ash heap, ghost parade of candles with wavering flames.


Poet: Ross Thompson

Reader: Ray Givans

Audio Mastering (Original reading): ST Mastering

Produced by BEAMA

BEAMA Artist (Sound) Brién

BEAMA Artist (Filmmaker) Ross McClean

A Silent War Creative Producers Sinead Bhreathnach-Cashell & Ann Donnelly

Funded by the Department for Communities through Northern Ireland Screen

Archive footage: The Testament of Caleb Meeke © Roy Spence; The Boat Train by Archie Reid © Lindy Reid; Royal Victoria Hospital courtesy of BFI Unlocking Film Heritage.



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