D'Arcy& Horslips

As the crowds mingled outside the Olympia after Bono's theatrical Moments of Surrender plug for his memoir I noticed Barry Devlin walking towards me. I have missed such chances and wasn't missing this one. I walked across and said, "Mr Devlin I want to thank you for the music of Horslips. Book Of Invasions opened up the Irishness of my Northern Irish Protestantism. Thank you!" We had a nice moment.

Last week Devlin and fellow band member Jim Lockhart were interviewed on the Ray D'Arcy show on RTE 2. Lockhart, struggling with my name, name dropped me and a similar story, I think informed by my friends at the Thiefdom of Horslips on X. I was chuffed. (check out last 5 minutes HERE )

So here is the story of Horslips influence on my life...


It was June 21st 1979 in the Astoria Ballroom, Bundoran, Donegal that a rock gig changed my life. It was the first time I saw Horslips live. Actually, it was the first time I had heard Horslips, at least that I can remember. They had been on my radar for a few years. They were mentioned by the boys who were into heavier bands like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Genesis. Somehow I dismissed them as too heavy or prog for me.

How my mate Rab and I missed them I do not know but friends of friends in Omagh had taken me over to the Astoria and I was utterly mesmerised from the very first riff. It was intoxicating, life affirming, joyous, thought provoking. I was caught up in it and at moments I stood back and asked myself just what was going on. I was into Omagh the next day to buy The Book Of Invasions and The Man Who Built America. I was smitten. 

Horslips ticked every box. The music was unique and immediate. No other band before or since has fused the traditional and the rock formats in quite the same blend. This was rock but there were fiddles and concertinas and mandolins. Then it hit the feet. This was early in my gig going life BUT no one ever bounced a crowd like Horslips.

There was something going on though that was more than a rock gig. It was that fusion thing again. We were at a rock gig but we were involved communally in some ceilidh like happening. It was like a set dance set up without the intricate steps. It was sweaty, as sweaty as has ever been.  Finally after converting ears and feet came the head.

Horslips were not about the every day 3 minute pop songs. These songs took you back hundreds of years and covered the history of a nation. Holding the record sleeves in my hand the following day led me into a journey through the past. 

It was maybe that journey through the history of Ireland that changed me the most. Last week as I spoke to the Causeway Coast Peace Group about my journey into peacemaking with my friend Fr. Martin Magill I came to realise for the first time that I was converted to Jesus and the music of Horslips all within the same two months. The impact of Jesus is seen in that today I am Presbyterian minister. Horslips of course made a less seismic mark on my life as they have no divine or redemptive qualities! Yet, don’t underestimate the effect. 

Horslips records were immersed in an ancient Irish mythology and history. Their second record was The Tain a tale from the early Irish literature when Queen Medb of Connaught takes on Cu Chulainn Ulster’s teenage hero. A few years later they had their very finest moment with The Book Of Invasions; A Celtic Symphony. This one is about how the island came to be born with a series of invasions. After this record the band moved into two more recent historical stories, Aliens being about the Famine and emigration and The Man Who Built America being about what the Irish Americans did and were still doing 

All of this made an impression on a seventeen year old boy seeking some sense of identity. If Jesus was helping me make sense of my place in the universe and indeed in history and eternity, Horslips led me to ask questions about my Irishness.

I was caught in a bit of a cultural void in my not being allowed to be Irish but not really feeling any sense of Britishness. Horslips opened my Irish side and birthed a love to all things on the island that I live on. These tunes carried me into a love of Irish music and art and cultural things.

I came to believe that they were as much the property of a Presbyterian from Ballymena as anyone else. I can settle nicely in the venn diagram that is Northern Ireland. Horslips words like fusion and blend became descriptions of who I am in national identity. 

It took another thirty years but when I started to become involved on the fringes of active peacemaking in Belfast I think it could only have happened because I decided to give my soul to someone who said Blessed are the Peacemakers and commanded me to love my enemies and also because Jim Lockhart’s flute on Trouble With A Capital T opened a door in that soul that allowed me to cross some cultural boundaries.


In my review of Roll Back, back around 2005, I wrote, "They were the best live band in the world and the world didn’t want to know. I’d never danced so much and much as The Waterboys would try I never did again. I fell in love with my island, its heritage and its artistic brilliance." That is as close to the exuberance of those Bundoran gigs as I can get.


Stocki BC garden

This week's Sermon Podcast sees me preaching about the workers in the field who all got paid the same no matter how many hours they worked.

What was Jesus telling us from this Parable in Matthew 20.

We look back into Matthew 19 to get a context and then I talk about wanting to be a potato picker in Galgorm in the 1960s, how grace is crazy, scandalous and irrational, and how the micro culture of the Kingdom of God is full of surprises and shocks.

Where is God shocking us with his grace today. 






Irish Crwd 2

I was immediately surprised. As the whistle blew, to bring relief and joy at Ireland’s narrow win over South Africa in the Rugby World Cup, I could hear Zombie, a well know international hit for The Cranberries pumping out across the Stade de France and on into the Paris night. 

I was intrigued. Who chose that song? I immediately had images of Saracen tanks on Belfast streets. I had never sensed it as a celebratory song for a sports event. Mind you who heard Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline as a sports anthem!

I suppose, as you are all expecting, I was expecting U2’s Beautiful Day or something. At least Zombie hadn’t been the obvious.

I then woke up on Monday morning and Zombie was the raging row on social media. It seems that Republicans are not happy that a song of protest against the IRA should be seen as a song of unity. 

It got a little laughable for me when I read post after post that described The Cranberries as West Brits. I lived in Dublin for a few years and knew a few West Brits but none of them had names like Dolores O Riordan. 

If anyone who was against the bombs and bullets tactics of the IRA were called West Brits, then a great number of people of the Republic were West Brits in 1993.

It was in March 1993 that the IRA exploded a bomb in Warrington, England. Three-year-old Johnathan Ball was killed and twelve year-old Tim Parry  had his life support machine turned off just five days later. 

There was an out pouring of horror in Dublin at the time. I was living there and felt that something different was happening. Dublin mother Susan McHugh brought 20,000 on the Dublin streets to protest the murder of children in the name of Irish freedom. It was a stepping stone through more horror as we stumbled our way to an IRA ceasefire eighteen months later.

The Cranberries were riding this same horror and asking question about the violence of the northern Troubles. It was 1993 that they wrote Zombie.

After I posted this blog I got a little more info about the song's original use at sporting events. It seems that those "West Brits" known as Limerick GAA started using it before the Munster Rugby crowd took it board. A song as born in Limerick as You'll Never Walk Alone was in Liverpool. It makes sense and is now sneaking out from Munster to the entire island.

So, I am not sure that the vehemency of those against the Irish Rugby team celebrating to Zombie has much robustness of argument. It is certainly not as offensive as a moment a couple of months ago when in a mid Ulster pub, the only other punters sharing the bar with us, came back in after they had left to shout “Up the Ra!” at what could only have been us.

It is however a reminder of how sensitive we are to songs and chants in certain situations and how much they still reach deep into our souls and offend and hurt us. We need to find songs that unite instead of divide, no matter what the sensitivity of our feelings.

I have been a fan of Snow Patrol’s Run. Is it too Northern? Why does that matter? It is some anthem in a stadium when Gary Lightbody fires the crowd. Staying north we could offer Teenage Kicks an utter punk rock classic.

There are also Thin Lizzy classics. What about Whiskey In the Jar or The Boys Are Back in Town. The thumping Horslips song The Power and the Glory is maybe not well enough known. The Sawdoctors’ To Win Just Once seems appropriate. Or… how would it be, should Ireland actually win this World Cup, if 30,000 Irish are heard singing No One Compares To You, so close to Sinead’s sad passing. There is also Beautiful Day!



There is nothing like a NeedToBreathe album to make you feel your life pumping through you. Their banjos and mandolins, maybe a little back in the mix compared to Mumford & Sons, have this vivacious sound upon which they lay the most infectious melodies upon. Add to that a deep and yet never preachy Christian content to singable lyrics and it is no wonder they have been so popular for so long.

Caves will not let the fan base down but a close listen will suggest their most varied and perhaps musically complete record yet. The title track and Hideaway give that life affirming sound to difficult places where resilience is to be found. Country outfit Old Dominion help them to rock out on Wasting Time and there are the piano driven ballads How Wonderful We Are and Reaching Out To Find You.

The big sounding Evermore we are told is for the humble unnoticed heroes. It could be about Jesus too; Gospel infused. The closing Temporary Tears grabs us Nordie Irish, a duet with one of our own local heroes Foy Vance. Two of my wife’s favourite gruff and vulnerable voices share their doubts and brokenness mingled with joy and hope and a heavenly sounding choir.

Over all I am surmising the band’s look at forgiveness. I believe that they have nailed the secret of God’s intentions with forgiveness in When You Forgive Someone. It has the simple rhymes and deep insights that I love these guys for:


All that's heavy on my soul

Lay it down and let it go

All that's heavy on my soul

Lay it down and let it go


'Cause when you forgive someone

You set yourself free

Oh, when you forgive someone

You set yourself free


Later in the track listing, during the aforementioned Reaching Out To Find You:


There's always give in the forgiveness

I guess that's just the chance we'll have to take

'Cause silence ain't the answer

It never makes the point we're trying to make.


It is a number of years since my daughter introduced me to NeedToBreathe and difficult believe that I haven’t written a review about them before now. It is not like they haven’t released enough records. These guys are prolific with studio records, eps, acoustic and live releases, never mind solo records by their mailman Bear Rinehart under the name Wilder Woods. 

I am glad I did as Caves is NeedToBreathe most fulfilled. 


Stocki and Dana 2

I am excited to share the news that the Soul Surmise Podcast is back. We started these last year with some wonderful conversations with musicians and novelists. 

We are back with some fascinating conversations with author of The Ghost Limb, Claire Mitchell, award winning songwriter Ferna and a 4 part series with Dana Masters, that latter conversations from the intriguing, insightful and gripping evening at there 4 Corners Festival 2022.

We restart with Dana Masters Part 1...