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February 2023



Every so often when things come together, often times as if by happenstance, I will break into “You couldn’t have come at a better time… not if you tried…” It seems appropriate.

On occasion I have found myself heading up a high elevator in O’Hare Airport, just off a flight from Dublin and as it ascends I am singing:


In the city of  Chicago, 

As the evening shadows fall, 

There are people dreaming 

Of the Hills of Donegal. 


Every single time. 

As I sat holding the hand of my dying father, I sensed a change in his breathing. I sat down and started singing:


The man is alive

Alive and breathing

It's taken me so long to see

The man is alive

Alive and breathing

The man is alive in me


I then read some words from Psalm 73 as he drifted away from us and into the eternal.

Three songs. That I have used as soundtrack songs. Like working songs for my life.

They are all from the same writer. They are all Luka Bloom. Recently I realised that of all my favourite songwriters it might be Luka that I am using most!

Luka Bloom, Irish songwriter, Christy Moore’s brother, and who for my money is the song laureate of the west of Ireland has just released Wave Up To The Shore, 51 songs over 3 CDs. The half century of songs starts with the title track, the first one he ever wrote in 1972 and brings you right through his career; from 16 to 61.

This time the songs are not remixed as so many such packages are. No, everyone of the songs was re-recorded in the summer of 2022. 

I remember in the mid 90s being at a Luka Bloom gig in the Limelight in Belfast and thinking how Bloom made one guitar sound like an entire band. Just one guitar. It rocked. It was loud. One guitar.

Wave Up To The Shore is again Luka with just his guitar but it doesn’t sound as big and brash as that night in 1994. That guitar is given a plethora of sounds again though now it is the sensitivity and dexterity of Luka’s playing that catches me ear, as lyrical in the musical impact as the poetry of Bloom’s brilliant songwriting. 

When Riverside broke Luka to me and the world in 1990 he was an Irishman living in New York City. Since then the mountains, bog lands and sea coast of his native Ireland are most likely to be in the songs. Oh there are other places. Place is important to this artist whether Europe, Australia or America. However, I am most in love with his Irishness. If you want the politics listen to brother Christy. If you want to touch the peat at the heart of our wee island then Luka’s the artist.

Luka has left a few of his best songs out of this collection - another song I used in preaching A Seed is Sown, Sunny Sailor Boy and a funny favourite An Irishman In China Town to name but three - but that is a petty gripe.

Now, already a reader has said that without Luka using streaming outlets you cannot taste, so is it worth it even for tracks already in your collection. My answer was threefold yes because:

  1. These are all new recordings
  2. You get all the songs in the same moment, stripped of production "moments"
  3. We are supporting an artist and £20 for 50 tracks is not outrageous. Try buying a ticket to U2 in Las Vegas!



Luka Bloom is playing Fitzroy on May 18th 2023 - BUY TICKETS HERE




EDGE: So, are we doing this

BONO: Ach, we would be mad not to


U2 doing a residency in Las Vegas. What? Does that mean they have finally become old and in age and art? Or is it a rite of passage giving them legendary status among the greats like Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra? Good surmises?

My first thoughts, when I heard the news, was that they would get slated for being outdated. It would be seen as a sell out. Money had finally won over art. 

I don’t think so. The Vegas stigma is misleading. I bought a box set at Christmas - Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers’ Live at The Fillmore. At the beginning of 1997 The Heartbreakers did a 20 date residency at the Fillmore. The album consisted of all the best bits and they are so good! If U2 had chosen the Fillmore would there be the same slur.

Live music in Las Vegas might also have had an underserved bad name. It maybe has that Cadillac Ranch feel. Old relics of cars in the desert. Beautiful but outdated! Yet, Lady Gaga, Adele and Usher are all at it. 

It makes sense. Instead of carting 100 articulated trucks across America and setting up a massive stage in every city, why not have the crowd come to you. One venue. Always there. It is eco friendly as well as much easier on the 60 year old U2 band members. No travel. 

However, beyond that in U2’s case is their desire not to be old and out dated but to be ahead of the creative curve. It seems that in Las Vegas exists a thing called the MSG Sphere. It sounds like a futuristic venue that can give an immersive visual experience as well as the best sound imaginable. 

Now, that has U2 written all over it. Since Achtung Baby was released in 1991 and went on a stage called first ZooTV and later Zooropa U2’s visual innovator Willie Williams has been attempting all kinds of visual and audio inventions. Here’s something brand new to play with. Nobody better.

It’s why in that Super Bowl advertisement Bono states; “we would mad not to.” For U2 this is a possibility that is too tempting.

Doing it without Larry Mullen Jr is another surmise. Larry is having surgery on 50 years of drumming wear and tear. My take is that this idea has been bubbling under for so long that Larry’s surgery is just badly timed. He is not retiring but getting himself well enough to play again. It is unfortunate but this band has been on the whole very fortunate. It will seem strange but strange it will have to be.

So, American fans can fly down and see and hear this imaginative celebration of Achtung Baby. It’s a long way from Belfast, so I am glad that that Super Bowl advertisement started in Carrickfergus with Seamus Doherty. How good it would be if the next venture was replicating the MSG Sphere in Dublin. Much closer. Much more cred. Vegas will be very expensive.


Earthquake ST

Lord right now in Syria and Turkey

People are rummaging in rubble

Being still… quiet

To listen for life

Digging in hope against hope

Digging for life, for loved ones, for anyone

Lord guide… strengthen…

Lord may the word become flesh

To move among them.


Lord right now in Syria and Turkey

People are injured needing aid

People are homeless needing shelter

People are grieving the loss of loved ones

People are dying under rubble

Lord be Emmanuel - with them

Reach them with help. 

Lord right now in Syria and Turkey

NGO’s Gathering local information

Imagining how to deploy the aid

Give them wisdom, 

Unity of purpose

Speed on the ground

Stamina for the longevity

May we send what they need

May that help as circumstances change

Lord do do immeasurably more 

than all we ask or imagine, 

according to your power that is at work within us

Lord as all this happens

We gather here in safety to worship you

May our gathering and our praise and our prayers

And our visual commitment to follow you

Somehow blend into your will for our world

May we love our neighbours across the world

Today we name particularly Turkey and Syria

Lord we act justly

Love kindness

And walk humbly with you and like you

That your kingdom might come and your will be done

Across our earth as it is in heaven.


Fitz Women

We read Romans 16...


Women of Fitzroy

You are made in the image of God

Just like me

You are loved lavishly by God

Just like me

Jesus lived and died, was raised to life and ascended to heaven

For you

Just like me 

Women of Fitzroy you are also different to me

You have different sensitivities

You have different characteristics

You have different gifts and genius

But you are made in the image of God

So if we want all of God in our leadership structures

We need women

Or something will be missing

Women of Fitzroy we appreciate you

In the fulness of your humanity

Bringing all that you have to give

Into leadership at every level of our community life

In whatever leadership position you are gifted for

Thank you for your leadership

Every single one of you.


Cottage 1900

“How long does it take for a man to know himself”

My friend Martyn Joseph wrote that as perceptive chorus on a song about him turning 60 on an album called 1960.

I am slightly younger than Martyn but now a little older than when he wrote it. I am in my early 60s asking more questions about myself. I often wonder why because I am running out of years to help myself from the learning.

Anyway, it has not been so much the turning 60 that has me digging deep as much as losing my grown ups. In not very much over a year Janice and I have lost four aunts, an uncle and my father. 

Personally, I have found my Uncle Bert’s loss the hardest. He was 90 but his death came on us unexpected. He was my last link with my family tree. He was the holder of the information about the ancestors. 

Since Uncle Bert died I have been contracting my sense of source back to the photograph at the top of this blog. The cottage two buildings up on the left was my Grandparents home. It is thatched. They must have bought it in the late 1930s or early 40s. 

It was originally part of the old Galgorm Castle Grounds. At some stage it was a local police station. It was renovated in the early 1700s. My grandparents then added an inside toilet in the early 60s. 

I spent an awful lot of childhood in this house. I never actually remember sleeping in it but after school and during school holidays this is where I was. I loved it. I felt loved in it. From the earliest age I knew it was an iconic building. I knew it was special. I loved the loft and the couple of hundred years of paint and wall paper!

This photograph moved me. I took it off a photograph on the BBC documentary The Lost Photographs of Mary Alice Young. The photographs in question were taken from 1000 that she took around the area and beyond between 1890 and 1915. They are stunning doors into understanding life around Galgorm at that time and I couldn’t help wondering if some of my ancestors were caught working in those photographs. I was watching, seeking something of who I am.

My favourite is obviously this one of Galgorm village. I couldn’t help but think that it wouldn’t have changed much between this and when my dad and Uncle Bert were running around the village as children, thirty or forty years later. It resonated and tears crept down my face.

Oh I am a Kernohan from 95 Moat Road in Harryville as much as I am a Stockman from Galgorm but more time was spent here and my name is Stockman. The emotion that this photo caused within me is telling me something about myself.

The past is so relevant to our present and future. Who we are starts long before we are born. Those genes that give us height, hair colouring or freckles also give us our gifts, personalities and the lenses by how we see the world. What makes me a Stockman or a Kernohan or the unique mix of all the ancestral genes?

I have now spent 36 years of my life in a square mile or two around Queens University in Belfast. I often wonder why, if that was where I would live out my vocation that God had me grow up elsewhere. Whatever this man learns about who he is, this photograph is my place of origin. I might have come a long way and no matter how far I have still to go, it all started here in this near 400 year old cottage in Galgorm. 


Stocki and Dana 2

photo: Neil Craigan


In introducing Dana Masters at the 4 Corners Festival I said, “Her voice is her witness but here life is a witness too.” For nearly two hours Dana then proved me more than correct.

I have been doing such interviews for some thirty years. Indeed, I have been shaping them as their own art form. I sensed early on that a good interview could communicate more than a number of sermons while people thought they were being entertained.

In my dreams, Dana Masters, was the perfect interview. Oh I loved doing Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody and Deacon Blue’s Ricky Ross but the ground that Dana’s life was able to cover made it exceptional. 

Dana’s life experience and her response to that experience has honed her into a humble, gifted, mature, spiritual and deep soul. We covered race, civil rights, protest, community, personal acceptance, faith, Van Morrison, the music business and dream for a better Northern Ireland.

Everything was wrapped in humour and song, the most crafted songs, with the most stunning voice and the magnificent accompaniment of Cian Boyland on piano. 

Remarkably Dana didn’t feel that she is a great singer in comparison to the voices that she grew up with. Her vocation she explained was in her connection with an audience. She learned that that was her biggest gift and longs to intercede, to “stand in the gap” for her audience. This came across tonight as she did that just as much in her conversation as in her singing. 

What also came across was the spiritual and social formation from her mother, her aunt and Grandmother. These women taught her that when she felt “unpretty” with her kinky hair and flat nose that she was “highly valued”. They did a wonderful job.

Dana has always known the power of songs and stories. The place of the song in African-American is not as primarily a means of entertainment. It has always been important “telling us who we are, where we are from and where we are going”.  

I found it fascinating that even in love songs Dana was looking for something more and deeper and more wholesome than falling in love but breaking up. Dana, inspired by Anita Baker, wanted songs about “the longevity of love”. More of it I say!

I brought her home to Dromara. Well, Andrew Masters did. Dana spoke of feeling at home and still unpacking why but that the Irish and our “hospitality” “roundedness” and "not think highly of yourself” was similar to South Carolina. 

Settling into a home in the back end of nowhere, up a hill in Dromara Dana then shared how she and Andrew had integrated into a Catholic community, sending their children to school there. Earning trust. 

Throughout the night Dana spoke about “fluke”, like singing with Kanye West. It seems like a fluke that a black girl from the deep south would meet a white guy from County Down and set up home in Dromara. Yet, it is a story that seems too well written, Dana’s soul seems too perfectly moulded for it to be a mistake.

So, Dana paused and started to share her dreams of here where she hoped her loudest stories would become stories of hope in what we’ve overcome rather than the wounds of the past. She wanted her children to see the world and know that there was nowhere to live like this. She cast her lot in with us.

She then finished the evening with what she called the African American national anthem Lift Every Voice and Sing and Call You Home her song about finding home here to push the emotion even higher. 

It was all that I ever dreamed my questions might draw from anyone I was interviewing. The depth, the insight, the wisdom. Amazing.




Grief in Dreams

photo: Neil Craigan


“It was one of the threads that tied community and whether or not you had the story already didn’t matter, you listened to this version and nodded and said, “I know” and let that knowledge be a comfort between you for a time.”


I read this from Niall Williams’ lyrical novel This IS Happiness the same night that I attended the 4 Corners Festival event The Grief Of Dreams Unrealised and remembered it through my tears.

The Grief Of Tears Unrealised was an evening of stories from people who had had something to knock their dreams. The different moments when the tears started was a strange revelation to me.

I expected them from Sarah Louise’s story. I knew it. I know the family well. Yet, I didn’t know her story inside her story and when she, who lost her dad before she could remember to an IRA bomb was sitting having a cup of coffee with a stranger that she had just met and had realised was a former IRA man. Oh my.

Gordon’s story was deepen the brutality of our past as he was caught up dramatically in the Shankill bomb in October 1993 as it exploded in front of his car. It was a difficult listen and when he named all the victims of that horrible day, the tears ran again.

The last tears were different and completed a whole. Karen shared how she’s gone off to University in Scotland not too sure that she’d want to come back. Fascinated by our peace process as you’d expect George Mitchell was coming to St. Andrews and her friend gave her her ticket to get to see him. Then she was in front of him and as they shook hands and she thanked him and he told her to go back and help change things, tears again.   

As I reflected on an amazing evening of stories I was back in Niall Williams’s paragraph. I felt deep down the need and the power of stories. To tell our stories and to listen. If ever there was a little place who need to increase our story telling then it is us, here in Northern Ireland. 

Sarah Louise and Gordon drew a catharsis, a lament that we need in the long term healing. Then Karen brought a hopefulness, a call for commit to that hope. Stories. Let us rethread our communities.


The Cube

Who’d have thought

Of a young loyalist working on her second Masters

Who’d have thought

Of a young loyalist dreaming of being a show jumper

Who’d have thought

Of young loyalists being 

The most imaginative, innovative and creative.


Who’d have thought

Of the young loyalists inviting Catholic friends to bonfires

Who’d have thought

Of a young loyalist dreaming of being a games designer

Who’d have thought

Of young loyalists being 

The most imaginative, innovative and creative.


Everybody dreams

Dreams whirl in colour swirls

Thump and pump and pulsate

Then bounce against society’s fate

Dreams are equally distributed

But the opportunities

Not so much.


Who’d have thought

Certainly not those of us

Who box in and confine young loyalists

To caricatures


And the butt end of jokes

Certainly not those of us 

Who never listen to their dreams

Who ignore the hurdles and hindrances

And don’t have in our own dreams 

That one day soon

Everybody’s dreams might come true.


I rethink. 


The exhibition PresentFuture at 4 Corners Festival 2023 was the most imaginative and innovative event that we have ever done. It was dreamed up and planned by young loyalists.

In a year when our Festival theme was Dreams:Visions For Belfast, we had asked Alternatives NI through their BAND project to ask young people and children in loyalist communities to share their dreams. Beyond our wildest dreams they conjured an immersive visual experience of lights, colour swirls to a beat driven soundtrack. There were photographs and spoken word too.

I spent an afternoon at the exhibition with some of those young loyalist dreamers and the Minister of State For Northern Ireland, Steve Baker. Conversation was frank and honest. It was a listening experience. More than listening I was stretching to hear. We heard from articulate young loyalists seeking investment into education and jobs in their areas. 

And I asked myself… what am I doing to help these young people to fulfil their dreams.


Thank you BAND at Alternatives NI and the two Debbies, Jonathan, Oisin and Ryan



Like Paul McCartney before him, Bob Dylan wanted justice for an album that he thought was mixed badly. McCartney has had a few chances to heal Let it Be. Let's hope Bob is happy with Fragments.

As with all these new mix projects there is a new vitality and sharper clarity to the instrumentation. You can hear lots of lovely little musical embellishments whether organ, guitar, pedal steel or harmonica previously lost in Lanois’ swampy mix. 

Best of all is Dylan’s vocals. This is Bob Dylan’s voice at its very best. This is where he is not a bad voice but the best voice. This is where it is a stunning instrument, articulate as the poetry of these songs deserved. 

The box is another Bootleg Series extravaganza of goodies. I have returned to being a vinyl buyer but for box sets I am going to always buy the affordable CD to get as many songs as possible. This one is so worth it. Every song is of the sharpest quality.

Yes, perhaps there are fewer different songs to those that made the original Time Out Of Mind but everything here is wonderful. All the alternative takes with their different keys and tempos seem finished and would have been ready to have come off the bench had the final mix selected not been used. 

As well as various versions of songs we get an entire live set of the songs which are recorded with some of Dylan’s best bands over the past 25 years, revealing other hues Dylan wanted to throw across the shades of these words.  

Fragments of treasure. 

My original review:

‘Goodness me!’ is the gold bar in the currency of superlatives that my students use and it aptly describes Bob Dylan's first album of new songs since the tragic Under the Red Sky in 1990. That album was particularly disappointing in the light of the quality of the Daniel Lanois produced Oh Mercy of 1989 and perhaps the omens were already visible when the news broke that that partnership had been reunited. 

This is the long awaited follow up, not a carbon copy by any means more a brother with a different personality but the same genes. It is rougher, bluesier and the most wondrous addition is the tinkle of honky tonk piano in the most beautiful places.

Dylan himself has said that the album is about feel rather than thought and performance rather than lyric. There is certainly a grain of truth in that comment and there is no doubt that this album may be less quoted in the more academic studies of Dylan's cannon. 

However, it seems to me that that kind of comment is relative. The writing of the best literature of the century does bring with it high expectations. Had this been a new Dylan on the block many would have been pretty impressed with the content here. 

Yes, the brooding and bleak music does scream to our emotions in it's gentle moody way but there is much here too for the Dylanophile who studies lyrics in Bible Study ways.

"It's not dark yet, but it's gettin' there" is perhaps the linchpin phrase of the whole affair. Mortality, heartache and disillusionment spills out like blood on the tracks in a way that will recall the 1973 classic album of that name. For sure Dylan is Love Sick - "I'm sick of love/I wish I'd never met you/I'm sick of love/I'm trying to forget you" - and there seems little doubt that his sickness is with the romantic kind but the she here would seem to represent life itself and Dylan seems to have been jilted by all that he once saw as his lover; the poetry and the musical backdrop are of a man at the very end of his tether. And yet it is not dark yet and Dylan still sees glimpses, tiny and all as they are.

There is a lot of looking back and where in the past life was a jet plane that moved too fast here we have a life that is dragging - "Yesterday everything was going too fast/ Today it's moving too slow (Standing In The Doorway)" - and though the Never Ending Tour has kept Dylan travelling it has only been his feet and not his soul - "I know it looks like I'm moving but I'm standing still". Suicidal stuff which sadly seems to be where the best art comes from but there are still inklings of hope and indeed maybe the candle of the Born Again late 70s and early 80s still flickers - I know the mercy of God must be near (Standing In The Doorway)- But I know that God is my shield/ and he won't lead me astray(Til I Fell In Love With You). I do find it fascinating that when he sang a song around lines like those it was deemed sell out to the only religion deemed uncool but he throws in little traces and no review has mentioned them. If faith kicks in as a refuge in times of trouble perhaps this is a more truely Biblical work than saved.

This is not a 56 year old trying to be a 21 year old. Dylan is not competing with the Gallaghers for the teenage minds of the generation. One of our problems is in thinking he should be. Dylan still fits into the culture of Rock'n Roll, even though this is folk and blues which lived way before Presley. Rock N Roll is now forty years old and getting to that stage where those who are still alive are writing songs about old age. This is a new thing, being old. Certainly this is a mature piece of work and perhaps, as Freewheelin was a classic statement about being 22, this is another classic lesson from the book of growing up and old and the issues that lie therein.

Goodness me!

Yes. We thought Bob was old as a 56 year old. I just saw him in November as an 81 year old! Interesting that I am now 5 years older than Dylan was in 1987 and perhaps listening rather differently. 



For quite a while now I have had one night every year where I get to do what teenage Steve wanted to do - be an interviewer like Parkinson. Like Wogan. Nothing like Norton.

There was a day when Television chat shows were not hosted by comedians. They were serious shows. I loved them. I wanted to know about the artist and the art. 

So, as a sixteen year old I wanted to be a journalist. Indeed, in 1979 I went off to Sunderland Polytech to do Media Studies but three days later came home, went back to school and shifted my direction towards ministry. 

Yet, at every turn I have had an opportunity to do my journalism. At the Presbyterian Church’s annual Youth Reach Festival I got to co-host a magazine show with my mate David Montgomery. I then did some radio in Dublin in the early 90s before hosting a music show on BBC Radio Ulster for 10 years from 1996. I have also written articles, even been a magazine editor and of course blog and more recently podcast.

Never am I more happy that when I have someone to interview. The 4 Corners Festival has given me the chance to chat to Gary Lightbody, Ricky Ross, Ruth McGinley, Duke Special, Brian Houston and Iain Archer. Tonight it is a sold out Fitzroy for Dana Masters.

I am deeply grateful for those who say they like my interviewing style, particularly if they are artists. Many artists are almost insulted by a template of dull repetitive questions from journalists. I like to fool myself into thinking that I am a little different.

I am primarily a fan. I have a favourite artist in front of me. Yes, there is an audience there too but I pretend that I am in my kitchen. What would I like to know? What have other journalists not asked? My only fear is that I bore the audience with my own interests. Ricky Ross even had a song that would break the seriousness if needed!  

Tonight it is Dana Masters and it was during her songs at the closing event of the Festival last year with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, that a spark went off in my head. Her story of growing up in the deep south, her Granny being a Civil Rights activist yet here she is in Northern Ireland. I knew there were tales to dig into not just for the sake of it but to hear insights that might help us as we try to do our little bit for reconciliation here.

Of course we never planned that she’d be featuring on BBC TV the two nights before I interview her. We’ll get to talk about Ottilie Patterson too.

A bonus. She’s going to sing. What a voice! 

I’m getting excited. Being a talk show host in the same spot that I preach. God didn’t erase my dreams. I am grateful!