My Father's House

Fr Hugh O'Flaherty has quite the story. As you read this fictitious account, based very much on the fact you quickly come to see his story as one that needed told. I had never heard about this Irish priest, a Schindler type hero who attempted to save lives in the bravest kinds of of ways with the Nazi’s most brutal regime eye balling him as he did so.

There is something contemporary about My Father’s House too. War in Ukraine in the age of social media has had us follow individuals trying to make a difference on the ground. It takes courage. Fr O’Flaherty seems to have had that is spades.

Joseph O’Connor it seems has started a Trilogy. My Father’s House is the first. The other two will be two other perspectives in the same period in Rome. 

It is 1943 in the eternal city. The Nazi’s control Rome under SS Officer Paul Hauptmann. O’Connor paints a brutal picture of Hauptmann’s rule of terror. 

It almost gets down to a head to head between this violent Nazi and an Irish priest who is using the neutrality of the Vatican as his refuge. This book in the Trilogy is without doubt about their almost personal relationship amidst the bloody violence.

As O’Flaherty measures his inches of safety and Hauptmann gets impatient to cross it, our heroic priest is conducting a choir, a menagerie of folk, not all of the Catholic faith or any faith at. They are a group using the choir as a front for an audacious escape plan That hopes to lead thousands of vulnerable souls from underneath Nazi hate. Escape!

Indeed, the book is written like a choir, with different voices harmonising O’Flaherty’s across the narrative. 

O’Connor who you sense loves Rome ,like any of us who have been wooed by that cities streets and buildings and basilicas and fountains and coffee shops then takes us on a thrilling night run, twisting and turning in its pages and at times in the reader’s nerve ravaged stomachs! 

Since finishing the book, in my time spent in Catholic Churches and monasteries, I have asked questions about the real Hugh O’Flaherty and met some who knew him or others in the choir. Out of these conversations I have got a sense that he had some of the same maverick, stubborn, courage of Fr Alec Reid who in his time in Clonard Monastery in Belfast threw himself into dangerous situations to save lives and bring peace in Northern Ireland.

The end? Well the end for us clergy might be the best of all. No spoilers BUT forgiveness becomes more difficult when you experience brutality. Forgiveness might be the most important word, the most vital key, to what gives us resolution, healing and peace in our personal souls and across societies. O’Connor throws in a profound tuppence worth!

Let us hear the rest of the choir. Soon. Please!


Tony and Steve KILL

Today was the day that Kill The Devil landed.

Co-authored by Northern Ireland's Tony Macauley and Rwandan Juvens Nsabimana it tells of extreme forgiveness and reconciliation in a love story taking place after the Rwandan genocide.

I took half an hour to chat to Tony about how he met Juvens, how he resonated so strongly with Rwanda's recent history and how he shaped a novel across 7000 miles with a young man who had no access to a computer.

catch this episode of the Soul Surmise Podcast:







For twenty five years I have had my own U2 playlist called Chilled. I made it up from non album tracks, CD single b-sides, tracks from compilations, songs from Passengers and the Million Dollar Hotel soundtrack. It’s a favourite. If any of these forty Songs Of Surrender had been released on such albums I would have snapped them all up for a revisioning of Chilled.

Yet, I am still not sure about Songs Of Surrender. 

If I go back to November in the Olympia as Bono did his one man show, a mix of theatre, memoir reading and song, I was so excited at the possibility of hearing the songs Bono sang just gently accompanied by Irish musicians Kate Ellis on cello, Gemma Doherty on harp and keys and voice, all orchestrated by Jacknife Lee. 

But… Songs Of Surrender is not that album.  

Instead word broke that we were getting 40 U2 songs, cleverly starting with One and ending with 40, stripped back to what matters, as Covid taught us, and re-fashioned by Edge. I have not been sure what to make of Songs Of Surrender since it was talked about, through a few single releases and even in the days after arrival. It is a lovely packaged thing (I got 4 black vinyl). 


Don’t get me wrong. I am fascinated by it, intrigued by why they did what to what song. 

I am loving Whose Gonna Ride Your White Horses, If God Will Send His Angels and the Edge lead vocal Peace on Earth and a little bowie-like quiver in his voice. The fragile piano intro of Stories For Boys and the looking back rather than forward of Out Of Control. The operatic drama of Sometimes We Can’t Make It On Our Own makes sense.

I am not convinced by the new lyrics, even more they add theological nuance. That’s what I normally love. The newer songs seem the most successful on first listens which might be obvious as even Bono would say that they have learned to write actual songs as they have matured.

So my jury is still out. Indeed, I am not sure what the jury is deciding. 

Maybe I just wanted Songs Of Ascent that we’ve been waiting for for too long instead.

Maybe I preferred the Bono Book Tour versions.

Maybe having heard their BBC Radio 2 Piano Room version of Abba's SOS (get why that song?!?!? - clever!) I thought a Bono & Edge covers record would be more fascinating. Imagine their Life On Mars? 

Maybe 40 re-imagined songs are just too much all at once.

Maybe with months to listen here and there, to let songs marinate, let them contrast and compare, and then go back to what was originally there. Maybe this will be a treasure trove of wonder.



Please Please me

The Beatles' debut album Please Please Me. 60 years old today.

It is hard to look over our shoulders and see Please Please Me on the day of its release and realise how rebellious, raucous and revolutionary The Beatles’ first LP was. 

When we think of rock n roll we go back maybe 7 years earlier to Elvis and Heartbreak Hotel, Jailhouse Rock and Blue Suede Shoes. For sure that was a beginning. The beginning that influenced The Beatles. 

However, that beginning had taken a great dilution. Elvis joined the army and came out a film star and balladeer, almost part of the establishment.

1962’s big hit was Frank Ifield’s I Remember You and though Elvis was still knocking out hits Good Luck Charm was no All Shook Up, nor was Cliff Richard’s Young Ones exactly Livin Doll.

It is easy to see Please Please Me, that four Liverpool unknowns laid down in just about a day, as a second birth for rock n roll. Just a year later they would play The Ed Sullivan Show in New York and thereafter most of our future rock heroes like Petty, Springsteen, Joel and Hynde cited this night as a changing of the world.

First up on Please Please Me was the strong original I Saw Her Standing There with its driving beat and sensual lyrics blowing out all the early sixties cobwebs. This was a new and fresh wind blowing in from years of rehearsing in Hamburg clubs. Over the next months and short few years it would whip into a storm that changed the entire world.

Please Please Me is a template of what the band would do on their early records. A few Lennon and McCartney songs of their own alongside rock n roll covers they’d worked up in all their gigs over the past 4 years. One of those covers Twist and Shout would become a staple song in the live set, almost made their own.

As I look back, I got the album as a 14 year old in 1976 when I swapped a load of singles for Please Please Me, A Hard Day’s Night, Beatles For Sale and Help. By then The Beatles were history, history as in over and history as in part of actual modern history. 

As I look back at it now it is amazing that Please Please Me, I Saw Her Standing There and Do You Want To Know A Secret were on that record. Three sure signs of the talented songwriters within. The energy, the positivity as Steve Turner would later call it, was also there in abundance. 

Oh it would not be long until The Beatles had hone the raw musical gifts on show on their debut, would warrant more time in the studio, and would make albums so much better in every way than Please Please Me. 

Today, however, 60 years from its release I look at it very fondly. Looking ahead as it hit the record stores, who knew. Looking back, it seems inevitable. Something had been set free, a black and white world went colour.   



(this is a little Lenten series for those who are interested... #13)


I yearn for my soul’s horizon to be as wide and free and mysterious and potent as the panoramic vastness of the Nevada desert. When I drove through the majestic beauty of that endless horizon I felt all the confines of human construction had given away to endless possibilities. 

It was a place where God was free to be God unfettered. There was no way to catch something this big in the clasp of my clenching fist and no way to capture the infiniteness of God in the pathetic capacity of my finite little human mind. 

Instead of standing looking into it all neatly contained I want to run into it never able to reach it’s distance height or depth or width but as I run as fast and free as my mortal body allows I will be experiencing a brush, a glance, a caress, a touch, a taste of the wondrous grace and love and power of the enormity of God.

Jesus once said, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” Jesus spoke these words in a conversation with a Pharisee called Nicodemus and was attempting to explain that insight into the Kingdom of God was a form of being born again. 

Reconnecting with God was a whole new way of thinking and living and seeing and once a human being became apart of that process we would be unpredictable, full of surprises and no doubt dealing out many shockwaves across our society.

I long to live such a life. I am often intrigued by the trees on the headlands of the north coast of Ireland. I imagine that every exposed place on the planet has them but they particularly provoke me here, particularly in the winter, where they appear like pencil sketches as if God peered down and then bent over to draw them in the cloak of darkness or while we were distracted by another stunning sunset over Murlough Bay. 

They are so skillfully shaped like dancers, so brilliantly and beautifully bent by the long slow consistent blowing across by the off sea breezes. Every time I am captured by them I keep asking if my life is as much of intrigue to those who live around me. Am I being shaped equally artistically by the Holy Spirit? Is it what I want to be?

We are not called to be like the wind or shaped by the wind for our own selfish yearnings. It is all for another equally exciting and adventurous possibility. 

God is at work in the world. 

God has a loving intentional mission towards the world that he created. 

There is a longing in the heart of God to bring all things back to their original intention. 

God sees the emptiness, loneliness, inner pain in human beings and the open wounds and scars of the injustice, poverty and war that has become the signature tune of our television news casts. 

God sees, God weeps and he wants to bring into the midst of it another Kingdom which one day will reach its full potential when the reign of God is restored upon creation. 

In the meantime God is at work and has given the invitation that we as humans might get involved with him. I can think of no greater adrenaline rush than to be about the business of turning the world I live in upside down.  

At the heart of Christian belief and worship is a symbolic act of remembering the death of Jesus. In this sacrament we take bread and wine to remind us of the body and blood of Jesus in which we believe we are ultimately redeemed and made new. 

I often imagine the cup being overturning in order that the power of the intoxicating, germ killing, life giving and world saving wine blood could get to drip through floorboards, grouted walls, slabbed pavements to seep into the heart and soul of the city and make all things new in the revolutionary upside down kingdom Jesus came to teach us about and make a living reality.

This is the adventure that drew me to Jesus and keeps me hanging in when I see too many proofs of Walter Brueggeman’s take that, "the Gospel is a truth widely held but greatly reduced, it is a truth that has been flattened, trivialized and rendered inane". 

As my mate Doug Gay puts it on his When My Ship Comes In from his new record All The Other People: 


Something wild enough to want

Something strong enough to trust

Something deep enough to love

Something free enough to follow after 


Gimme a large dose of that!