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February 2021

January 2021


Damian book

Damian Gorman was a highlight of 4 Corners Festival in 2020. He arrived among us with a humility, rural Irish confabulation, insightful world wisdom and words to open the soul. He gave himself to our festival in the most generous of ways.

His poetry was so good that I was googling his work to see where to start acquiring a lengthy catalogue of books. Nothing! How on earth could this man not have a book out?

Thankfully before he arrives back at 4 Corners Festival this year, the book is available. As If I Cared was finally published and it doesn’t let us down.

This is more than a poetry book. Damian’s imagination takes you on a short memoir journey. He begins by talking about his father, a harsh man who left more marks on Damian than we would like but ends with words of love to him. In between we get all kinds of poems. Short bursts of memoir, essay and other writings about his upbringing, his own children, The Troubles, other country’s troubles and more.

Some of these words are endearing; some are nuggets of good advice; some are insights into the mess we are; some are clues to the direction out of that mess; and some are rather hard hitting of soul and head and heart. 

All of it comes with a deep sensitivity to words and a deep tenderness to human beings. On the back cover there is quotation of Adrienne Rich “without tenderness we are in hell”. Damian’s words tend to be all about keeping us out of hell and nudging us in other directions. 

At 4 Corners Festival 2020 Damian spoke of story telling being like the Eucharist where the writer breaks himself apart to feed others. As a literary eucharist As If I Cared is nourishing soul food. 





(my Pause For Thought On Vanessa on BBC Radio 2 on January 29, 2021... The theme was Musicals as that was a them for the entire BBC this week...)


Amanda Gorman. Since the inauguration of Joe Biden I have been utterly captivated by that young poet. Was she not amazing?

And above all her wonder she got me some cool cred with my daughters! 

You see, I am not going to lie, I hate musicals. I am a huge massive music fan but musicals are too contrived, to unrealistic. Just not a fan.

I am no fan of musicals and My daughters love them. Both are huge Hamilton fans.

Well… within minutes of Amanda Gorman’s poem I was speaking at a public event on Zoom. I was so full of her poem that I quoted her. Within an hour a friend had complimented my little speech and added and told me I had quoted Hamiltion without even realising.” 

What? No I didn’t.

Turns out I did. I texted Caitlin and Jasmine all chuffed with myself!

You see I quoted Amanda Gorman quoting the Old Testament prophet Micah with the same quote that is quoted in Hamilton.

"Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid"

I have loved this verse of Scripture since I used to regularly visit a Fair Trade Vineyard in South Africa. In most other South African vineyards the grape pickers have few rights, they live on the vineyard and can be sacked and thrown off at any whim of the owner.

This image of the safety, security, ownership and equality of everyone sitting contentedly under their own vine. I love that sense of shalom. That is the world that I long to live in.

I can see why it is used in a musical about a man’s ascent out of poverty. I can see why Amanda Gorman who described herself as a skinny black kid, descended from slavery and brought up by a single mother would use it. Apparently George Washington used it a lot.

"Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid"

Personally, I want to give my life to see such a day… and I’m delighted that it makes my daughters think I’m a musical quoting dad!


Martin and Me bernie

photo: Bernie Brown


(I am particularly tickled with this article. I wrote it for Freckle magazine about a year ago and it was published just a few weeks ago. Yes, you read it right. I wrote it as an interview. Out of all the talks and interviews that Martin and I have done together I think it is very accurate... for those seeing 4 Corners Festival all over social media, here is how it all came about and developed)


STEVE: The 4 Corners Festival might be the story of two people from across our divided community becoming friends and then creating ways to make more such friendships.


MARTIN: In 2011 I wanted to run an Irish Language class that both Protestants and Catholics could attend which would help depoliticise the language. Linda Ervine is doing this wonderfully in the Turas project.

I was Parish Priest in Lenadoon and I couldn’t see Protestants coming into Lenadoon to learn Irish. I knew that Fitzroy had an Irish Language church service (An Tor ar Lasadh - the Burning Bush) and therefore thought that Steve might be open to having the classes there. Catholics would have no problem going to a Presbyterian Church for Irish classes given the role Presbyterians played to save the language.


STEVE: I was absolutely up for the idea. My wife’s cousin was an Irish speaker and actually became one of the teachers!


MARTIN: We met for a coffee to talk about how the whole thing would work. Steve gave me a key to get into the halls in Fitzroy. Keys have great significance in Catholic tradition and I was very moved by this.


STEVE: That coffee was a life changer for me. I remember coming out of the cafe and turning towards Fitzroy. As I walked the few hundred yards to my office I can remember thinking that something had begun. That our friendship was going to go somewhere and do something. I had no idea what.


MARTIN: I went home thinking that, if I could have, I would have bottled the conversation. There was a real energy to it.


STEVE: We continued to meet. Martin invited me to read a poem at an ecumenical service called In Joyful Hope up in Lenadoon. The poem I read was called Prayer For The 4 Corners Of Belfast.


MARTIN: The following June I was asked by Paul Gallagher if I would celebrate Mass on 21st June, the Day of Reflection and the ‘longest day’ in the year when those lost or injured during the Troubles are remembered.

I asked Paul if I could do a joint service with Steve instead of the Mass and that is what we did. 


STEVE: In Fitzroy we do a series called The Gospel According To… The very gifted singers and players in Fitzroy perform songs that I link with spiritual thoughts on the songs.

I was keen to do one based on the songs of Christy Moore. Presbyterians singing rebel songs like Irish Ways and Irish Laws. So, we did it in Lenadoon!


MARTIN: Then there was another cup of coffee. They are dangerous in our story! Paul Gallagher had arranged to show us an Art Exhibition of work by people from VAST - Victims and Survivors Trust (VAST). He forgot. We went for coffee.


STEVE: Over that coffee I shared with Martin my journey up to see him in Lenadoon. I described the roundabout on the Andersonstown Road as like going through CS Lewis’s Narnia Wardrobe. Here was west Belfast, like a whole new city that I’d never seen. Schools, shops, sports stadiums, forest parks and ice cream parlours! 


MARTIN: I agreed with Steve and told him about a trip over to the Eastside Arts Festival to an event in Ballyhackamore Community Library - I had no idea where it was and got lost trying to find it. This was OUR city yet there were parts of it we didn’t know. 


STEVE: So we started talking about a Festival where we could perhaps encourage people out of their corner and go somewhere they hadn’t been. 


MARTIN: We jotted down names of six or seven like minded people who might share our idea and called a meeting in the Irish School of Ecumenics, which in those days was on the Antrim Road. 


STEVE: Looking back it was a mad idea. None of the two of us have a PhD in Festivals.


MARTIN: None of there two of us have a PhDs in anything!


STEVE: We brought that group of people together in October and by January 2013 we had our first festival.

I love a quotation that someone sent Bob Geldof when he was doing Live Aid. It is from a mountaineer called WH Murray and says that once we commit, “A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt could have come his way.” The 4 Corners Festival has proven that to be true. Mayors, politicians, artists and preachers all gave us of their time and gifting.


MARTIN: Michael Longley, Colin Davidson, Fr Greg Boyle, Trevor Morrow, Clare Hanna, Monica McWilliams, all have graced our stages. This year, Gary Lightbody, Damian Gorman, Gladys Ganiel, Fr Peter Verry, Ruth Koch and Bishop Alan Abernethy were taking part. We could never have imagined that over that coffee in Lenadoon!


STEVE: There have been some amazing moments. When we repeated The Gospel According to Christy Moore at Clonard Monastery one of the singers sang the Bobby Sands song Back Home In Derry. Introducing it he suggested that this should sound like a lullaby. Afterwards a man approached him and sai that he was in the cell beside Bobby Sands and that it was indeed a lullaby. The singer then told the former IRA prisoner that he had lost his Grandfather in the Kingsmills Massacre. That opened up quite a conversation. Where else is that happening.


MARTIN: We have tried to give people a chance to tell their stories. Alan McBride has shared about losing his wife in the Shankill bomb and Stephen Travers has shared about the Miami Showband Massacre. What we find at such events is that people in the audience then feel that they want to share their own story. We are grateful to Alan who now works for WAVE for helping us do that sensitively. 


STEVE: We find that every year more people come along and the impact of the Festival widens. People are exploring the city. From across the corners friendships are being made. Through art and music, poetry, drama and so many other ways public conversations are being had about peace and forgiveness and imagination and grace.


MARTIN: We live in Belfast in a constant state of uncertainty. Our first Festival was at the height of the flags protest. Another was a week after Martin McGuinness’s resignation brought down Stormont. This year’s festival started on Brexit Day. Into all of this we try to breathe just a little hope. We hold to an idea that the prophet Jeremiah had in the Old Testament. He told the people who were in exile to pray for the peace and prosperity of the city they were in because everybody would benefit from that. That is what 4 Corners Festival is trying to do.




Duke CDS

I have been like a child in a toy shop these past few 4 Corners Festivals as I had the great joy of interviewing some of my favourite singers. Known as In Conversation With… I have thoroughly enjoyed talking to Iain Archer, Ricky Ross from Deacon Blue, Brian Houston and Gary Lightbody from Snow Patrol. 

I love the music and love being an interviewer. I love delving into the songs but more the stories behind the songs and the influences. I love finding out what makes an artist tick. 

So I am excited like my 7 year old self waiting for Christmas Day as I prepare to have this year’s In Conversation With Duke Special. 

I have known his Dukeness for a very long time. Long before he was a Duke! I not only gave him rehearsal space when I was living at Derrvolgie Hall, while a Chaplain at Queens University but I am pretty sure that I gave him his first live radio session on my show Rhythm and Soul. 

So, I have been interested in his music from the very beginning and have followed him all the way through. Duke’s catalogue of work is deep and varied, from radio hits to photographic exhibitions to theatre. He was collaborated with Irish Trad band Ulaid, reconstructed the poems of Michael Longley and written theatre scores for Tony Maculey's Breadboy and Paperboy as well as Patrick McCabe's Breakfast On Pluto.

Currently the Duke is doing a PhD at Queens University about songwriting as a form of translation. 

There is lots to talk about and after a Zoom chat with him yesterday I am even more enthused about such a night. Duke Special is thoughtful and articulate, sensitive and honest. His music is not only of great quality but resonates with place and the issues of his time. 

I will attempt to take us through the Duke Special catalogue without going up too many blind alleys into the ideas that perhaps fascinate only me. We will go deep and seek how grace and imagination can infuse art but much more than that emanate from art into a wider society. We might even find that Belfast is much more in the lyrics, melodies and arrangements of Duke Special songs than the artist himself thinks!

If you are a Duke Special fan, I really hope that this will be an essential evening and if you are not I think you will gain insight into art and music if not be heading out afterwards to stock up on records you missed! 

Join us… Friday February 5th at 7.30…


100 000 deaths

(this is my Belfast Telegraph column on January 22, 2021...)


“There is always light

If only we are brave enough to see it

If only we are brave enough to be it.”


The words of that “young skinny black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother who had a dream about being President and ended up reading a poem for the one”. Amanda Gorman. What energy. What poise. After her big moment, she spoke to James Cordon about how words are how she does her magic. 

Ms Gorman’s poem at the inauguration of the 46th President of America had me in tears at one moment, cheering like I was at a soccer game at another and feeling the call of God by the end.

The Coronavirus days are not going away. They seem to be getting worse. Watching the news at 6 can be harrowing. There is a lot of isolation and fear. We are locked down now until at least March 5th, almost a year since went into the first lockdown. 

It is dark. Way more people have died in the UK than in the Second World War. Think of the sacrifices people made to win that war. We need to show similar resilience and commitment. Your country needs you.

Yet, many are flouting the restrictions and playing loose with the lives of their families, neighbours community - even themselves. I have come more and more convinced that those who are ignoring this war on the virus should be made as socially reprehensible as drink drivers.

We have a choice. To be the light. Or the dark. 

I had a hand in writing the theme song for this year’s 4 Corners Festival that begins on January 31st. The song and the Festival is all about breathing hope. I feel a little insecure quoting it in the same article that I write about Amanda Gorman but the chorus goes:


Will we be the dark

Will we be the death

Will we be the kiss

Will we be the breath


Though we don’t use the word light in the lyric you can see the stark challenge. We are hoping that the 4 Corners Festival is a light and breath of hope across our city in the first week of February. On a daily basis we as a society have a choice to be the the dark or to be the light in our neighbourhoods, cities and town lands.


The light is actually most powerful when it shines in the deepest darkness. Oh how we have seen that light shining in the exhausting compassion of our NHS, as well as the staff in schools, those who have served at Foodbanks and so many others who have made the shadows more bearable in this strange year. 


What I loved about the last few lines of Amanda’s Gorman’s poem The Hill We Climb was how she took two lines from Jesus and blended them. Jesus declares “I am lhe light of the world” — “If we are brave enough to see it”. He also looks at his followers and tells them “you are the light of the world” - “if we are brave enough to be it”.


That is where in Amanda Gorman’s poem I heard the call of God. She held the charisma and unction of the preacher and I heard those words as an encouragement in the darkness of what we are struggling through:


“There is always light

If only we are brave enough to see it

If only we are brave enough to be it.”


God, give me the courage…


Find out more and book events -


Peace Players

It wasn’t long after we bought our house in Ballycastle (the house we live in in Belfast belongs to Fitzroy) that I got angry and frustrated with my Protestant upbringing.

Ballycastle is a hurling town. If you are a young person, you carry a hurley. Everybody seems to play hurling or camogie. 

On the grass at the sea front or on the beach, they are using these sticks to knock a sliotar between each other. The way they hit it and even more beautifully control it in the air with the hurley the more I regretted that I didn’t get an opportunity to play hurling when I was young.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Hurling is a game for the brave. Catching a well hit sliotar in the air with two or three players around you. Courage. 

As a soccer player I was very fast, had decent close control, a good eye for a pass and a goal but I wasn’t brave enough to take it to a higher level. At hurling I would have been way to much of a coward to make it. I would however have loved a bit of skilful playing around down the seafront.

It is one of the many downsides of our tragic divisions. If you are a Protestant and go this school you play Rugby or soccer. Go to a Catholic school and it is GAA football or hurling. 

My best mate when I was 11 and 12 was Frank Kelly. What a footballer. He had the courage. He also went to the Catholic school and played GAA football so I rememberer him trying to teach me how to dribble with the ball in your hand for a few seconds, kick, ball in hand, kick… at speed!

Then Frank moved to Dublin and I was cut off again.

How I would have loved Peace Players. No hurling but the opportunity for 11 to 14 year olds to play the sports they don’t get the chance to play. Love it. More of it. 

So 4 Corners Festival, working with Peace Players for the third year, will give your children the opportunity. If they are aged 11-14 years they are invited to connect with others across Belfast for games, sports and activities, all in the comfort of their own home. 

Being at home will not take away any of the friendly competition and fun. In all of the energy there will be time to take a breath from all that is challenging our younger teens and a contribution to bringing Belfast together. 


register at



We are thrilled to have as our 4 Corners Festival film this year, the award winning short film by Adam Patterson and Declan Lawn.

Rough has a warning in its title. This is not Disney. It is black comedy and might not be ideal for the younger members of the family.

Yet, it is highlighting an issue that our city needs to take more seriously than perhaps it is. Punishment beatings. Week after week we hear news pieces about someone else receiving a brutal beating at the hands of post conflict paramilitaries.

I almost saw first hand  such vigilante justice in a township in Africa. That it happens on our streets is something that we should be ashamed of. 

After the film that stars Michael Smiley who I last watched on Would I Lie To You there will be a Zoom panel discussion that includes the film’s writers Adam Patterson and Declan Lawn, as well as the film's producer Louise Gallagher.


Book your place on the website -



Botanic Park

Over the last number of years The Wonderful Wander has become one of the most loved 4 Corners Festival events.

Jim Deeds and David Campton have plotted routes that have had us walking across swathes of our city, connecting areas perhaps really connected and filling the fascinating place a long the way with insights through poetry and story and art and song. 

Not so much prayer walks as spiritual awaking us to what goes on in our city that so often we can rush past or take another out around.

This year is obviously different but we are not going to let the fact that we can walk together get in the way of a good walk. We will miss the conversation and sense of 4 Corners community along the way but Jim and David have put together a wonderful wander celebrating Belfast City Council Parks.

The boys will “walk the walk” along an interesting, circuitous route from Ormeau and Botanic parks to City Hall, recording their thoughts and the sounds for a podcast that will be available on-line. 

We then invite you, when you feel free to do so, to grab your headphones or ear buds, lace up your walking boots and follow in David’s and Jim’s footsteps, listening to the podcast.

Register and receive the podcast -


Walking in wards

(prayers I used in Fitzroy on January 24, 2021, inspired by Richard Carter's The City Is My Monastery and the lectionary text "follow me...")


Lord I want to walk with you through my city

I want to walk along the pavements

Down University Street onto the Ormeau Road

Weaving through people of different faiths and political persuasions 

People of many nations, colours, cultures

To smell fish and chips, see carpet stores

And kids spilling out of An Droichead

Running across the road to Mornington

Past cafes and bars and law courts and banks to Victoria Square


Lord I want to walk with you

As you stop to give dignity to the man sleeping in the doorway

Pray healing on the woman in the woman’s refuge

As you share your own story with the refugee running from dangers at home


Lord I want to walk with you

As you pray for the business woman struggling to keep going through lockdown

As you feel deep sadness for the rich man off to work for what isn’t gaining him his soul


Lord I want to walk with you 

As you make a special visit to our hospitals

As you put your hand on the shoulders of doctors and nurses, ambulance drivers and cleaning staff alike

To breathe resilience, stamina and compassion into their weariness

As you sit by the bedside of those who are ill or dying

Being with them when their loved ones cannot

As you pray for those whose treatment is on hold in order to deal with the crisis with this pandemic


Lord I want to walk with you in my city 

As I do 

Caress my soul

With your compassion and love

Be the rock and refuge of the Psalms at my side

Lord I want to walk with you in my city

And as I do 

Collide with my soul

Turning around my attitudes, values, ambitions, decisions and daily intentions


Lord I want to walk with you in my city

To find myself redeemed and transformed

That I might do what Jesus would do

In my city.




why not take a walk through Belfast at this year's 4 Corners Festival... The Wonderful Wander is not cancelled... we are locked down but rocked up! Book for The Wonderful Wander and other events, including one with Richard Carter at:


Angel headed Hipster

This is great and well over due. A tribute album to the work of Marc Bolan & T. Rex that is not only a wonderful, celebration of his work but surely will have the work reassessed for its wonderful originality. 

Even I reassessed that. I shouldn’t have had to. I was a Bolan fan from the age of 11. Telegram Sam and Metal Guru were in the ether as pop music obsession began its seep into my life. Then when it had taken hold of me Children Of The Revolution, Solid Gold Easy Action and 20th Century Boy grabbed my fandom by the throat.

I loved Marc Bolan. I love the Glam Rock boogie of the hits. I Love To Boogie seemed a perfect soundtrack. I also loved the earlier folky acoustic stuff too. I loved the double package of My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair... But Now They're Content to Wear Stars on Their Brows and Prophets, Seers & Sages: The Angels of The Ages. Apparently that is the longest titled record ever to be number 1.

I was heartbroken when he died so young, though as a 15 year old I had no idea how young 30 was on that September morning in 1977 when I met my mate Rab to walk to school and he told me. It was the month after Elvis. What was going on?

Over the years I never lost my love. Any footage on TV and I was loving it. Yet, my obsession got hidden, crowded out by The Beatles, Van Morrison, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and so many more. Their lyrics were not so weird! I am not sure that I could get A Gospel According to… T. Rex. 

Listening to Angel Headed Hipster took me back to those glory Bolan days. This is such an endearingly put together collection by the late Hal Willner who sadly died of Covid 19 in April. 

Willner was able to draw a star studded cast and so U2 with Elton John on piano, Nick Cave, Joan Jett, Peaches, Kesha, Lucinda Williams and both of John Lennon’s sons to name a few. 

A stellar batch of artists, no matter how good, will not go far. Angel Headed Hipster’s strength is ultimately Bolan’s songs. They elevate his gift for melody and song craft. Nick Cave makes Cosmic Dancer a revelation, Lucinda Williams takes Life Is a Gas into swampy blues, Peaches gives contemporary energies to Solid Gold Easy Action. 

These are the songs of my youth. The songs indelibly marked. What Angel Headed Hipster has done is to make them the songs of my late fifties. It goes further. It has me falling in love with songs I had missed first time round. It has had me realise that I loved Marc Bolan when I loved the 7” single. There are album tracks to find. I found some here!

A wonderful tribute.