Fermanagh Gold Introduction
Jan Battles

His death is lamented in one of Ireland's most popular ballads and now Willie McBride, an Irish soldier who died fighting for Britain in the first world war, is to get the big screen treatment. 

An American producer is developing a $10m (£8.6m) feature film based on the story of McBride as told in The Green Fields of France, an anti-war song made famous by the Fureys. 

Ned Stuart, a film producer in New York, was moved to start making the film, called The Last Parade, after hearing Tommy Makem perform the ballad in a New York pub. "The song was my inspiration for the film. I had to fictionalise the character because there was very little I could find on the real Willie McBride," said Stuart. 

McBride was originally a fictitious character invented by the song's composer, Eric Bogle, a Scotsman living in Australia. His ballad is the lament of a man who comes across the grave of McBride, a young soldier, in a military cemetery in northern France. He notices that the boy was only 19 when he died in 1916, one of the many Irishmen who fought and died for Britain on the fields of France. He sits by the grave asking the dead soldier questions, such as whether his death was quick or "slow and obscene" and if he left a wife or sweetheart behind. 

Bogle later discovered that a Private William McBride had been killed in the war in 1916, at the age of 19. But so little else is known about the private that his life has been completely fictionalised in the film, said Stuart. "I was able to find out from the war graves commission that he was a member of the 2nd Battalion the Enniskillen Regiment and that he died in 1916 near Verdun. I could find nothing else," said Stuart. He also wrote to several McBride families but got no further information. "At that point I had to invent him. So I invented a boy who wanted to be a boxer, whose family were pacifists," he said. "McBride's father is portrayed as a Church of Ireland rector in Pettigo, Co Donegal." 

Stuart's McBride attends Trinity College Dublin. He wins several fights for Crumlin boxing club, before joining the army in Enniskillen and going to France where he meets his death. In true Hollywood tradition, he leaves behind a heartbroken girlfriend. The film closes with McBride's burial, to the sound of a drum beating slowly, a fife playing softly and the last post and chorus being played by a band - all in accordance with the original ballad. 

Stuart said he tried to "maintain a high degree of historical accuracy" in the film. Some of McBride's friends in the movie are based on real soldiers who came from around Enniskillen and died in the war. "In a way it's a tribute to them and all of the Irish who died in that war," said Stuart. "I remained true to the lyric as far as I could. I had no qualms about inventing a life for a well-known hero. I gave some substance to the very unknown. The Willie that I invented is every bit a hero." 

When he first came up with the idea of a film based on the ballad, Stuart said he rang Bogle. "He sent me a photograph of the grave," said Stuart. Bogle has agreed to his song being used as the film's theme music, according to Stuart. Bogle also plays a cameo role - in the last scene of the film he sits by McBride's grave while the song is played. 

Stuart hopes to shoot the film in Donegal, Dublin, France and Germany. The cast will be mostly Irish, with an unknown young actor likely to be cast as McBride. Stuart is looking for an Irish production company to coproduce.

Article forwarded by John Cunningham