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March 2023


The RTE Cast

With a few television specials being produced for the 25th Anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, you can see myself and Fr Martin anywhere you watch TV next week.

On Wednesday April 4th at 10.45pm on UTV, on a brand new series UP CLOSE, you will hear us talking to one of our finest young TV journalists Jude Hill in a programme called An Imperfect Peace.  Standing by the Springfield Damn Fr Martin and I will be answering questions about the Good Friday Agreement 25 years ago and also right now. Many others will be reflecting too. 

Then the next day, Thursday April 5th at 4.35pm on RTE 1 we will be taking part in a Service For the 25th Anniversary Of The Good Friday Agreement. There are some wonderful people involved in this one including former Irish President Mary McAleese and Methodist minister and overseer of decommissioning Harold Good, among many as well as music from Kiran Wimberly and the McGraths. Personal thoughts and Bible reflection. It is a very well crafted piece.

It was an honour being involved in both.




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.   




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!



Our God at the heart of St Patrick’s message we find forgiveness

A man who knew that he was forgiven

A man who forgave

"Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us" 

God, St. Patrick lived those words

Yet we in this country who celebrate St Patrick have been abject failures at showing that to one another

For years, aye decades, indeed centuries, we have failed to find forgiveness for one another

We have talked our own prejudicial justice and wreaked vengeance

It leaves our island with two St Patrick’s

Ours and theirs

Marching in different parades

Lord if ever there was an antithesis of St Patrick we are that

God forgive us

God show us the centrality of forgiveness in your righteous ways

God may we not languish in some self righteous sense of our own forgiveness from you

While playing hermeneutical gymnastics with God’s call for us to forgive

Lord, this St Patrick’s weekend may we for the first time in 16 hundred years hear St Patrick’s call to be forgivers

God right now we seek your forgiveness as we confess our sins of commission and omission to you and others

- silence to ask forgiveness -

We thank you that 1 John promises that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

So Lord, thank you for our forgiveness through "the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world".

Send us back into our world knowing we are forgiven

To be forgivers

In Jesus name



Do not conform

(this is a little Lenten series for those who are interested... #12)

This poetic Reflection is based around a Bruce Cockburn’s song called Pacing The Cage:


“I never knew what you all wanted

So I gave you everything

All that I could pillage

All the spells that I could sing

It's as if the thing were written

In the constitution of the age

Sooner or later you'll wind up

Pacing the cage...”


To Cockburn I add Eugene Peterson's paraphrase of Romans 12 v 2 in The Message:


Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you."


To be stumbling after Jesus into an upside down alternative Kingdom is to be constantly reflecting and critiquing the constitution of the age and standing against conformity to it. Here’s to less pacing... and less cages!


Oh how busy the days are

Rushing from one event to another

Our diaries full of appointments

Coffee breaks full of people

Our evening full of distractions

Running, taking short cuts

And missing the whole road

The distractions never stop

No one ever stops

The constitution of the age reads;

“No time to find time

As time just flies on and on.”


How loud and bright the days are

The radio wakens us with ideas and suggestions

Its ideas of fun and happiness

In the recipe of words and melodies

And rhythm and rhyme

The television fills all the loose moments

With philosophies of love and meaning

Acted out in half hour condensed packets of life

The constitution of the age screams

In the message of the medium

At the private altars of our rooms

Where the false prophets speak

And we are unaware how much we are listening.


Money is the reason for the every breath we take

So that we can have what they say we need

For our lives to be fully human

We study to get a job

That will give will give us the money

To buy what will make us more human

More human than we are without the money to buy

We buy our dignity

We buy our identity

We buy our love and meaning

The constitution of the age says

“I shop so I am”

And I am more of am than they are

Because I can buy more.


I need to know an alternative

I need to stand in the face of the constitution

I need to rebel against the age

I need to dare to be different

Not conformed to the constitution of the age

Bringing me down to its level of immaturity and madness

But transformed by the renewing of our my mind

By God who leads me into life and life in all its fullness.


Doug Record 2

For a musical template on his second solo record, Doug Gay has jumped back over his debut, Life After Death, to a sound more in keeping with his days as front man in Calvin’s Dream and Candy Says. Dreamed Of A Man and Storms are driven along with guitars. Q Blues then seems to shift pace before duelling guitars wrestle in the Qoloheth.

The centre of the record shifts, revealing the different textures that Gay can conjure in. The atmospheric That Night the Snow Fell and the heart break ballad Never Thought That You Would Leave. By album’s end, however, we are back in the early 90s with Your Face a song that would have fitted perfectly on Calvin’s Dream’s Fanatical record.

Indeed Your Face maybe best reveals Doug Gay’s uniqueness. Who else would even try to put his two loves, for deep theology and  The Velvet Underground and squeeze it all into 3 minutes. Bono dreams! 

Even thirty years ago, in his days as front man in Glasgow garage band Calvin’s Dream, Doug Gay was talking about his songs as ways to wrestle with his Protestant identity. Growing up in a Plymouth Brethren Church and ending up as a minister in the Church of Scotland, he has much to struggle with. 

This upbringing certainly gives Doug plenty to interrogate both in his own bruised soul as well as in theology and spiritual outworking. On The Old Gospel Hall he takes a nostalgic remembrance and finds the crux:


Oh the threat of death – and the gift of life

that you advertise, you advertise

but there is more - more to life than this 

I realise I realise


The follow on track When My Ship Comes In might be my personal favourite. Doug and I have a mentor called Andy Thornton and we both love a song of Andy’s called Stone Cold Winter. Had I still a radio show I’d play these two songs together. Songs of the wild open spaces of life in all its fulness:


Something wild enough to want

something strong enough to trust

something deep enough to love

something free enough to follow after


I have found myself in my car this past week, singing aloud to that chorus, claiming it as my own raison d’etre. The catchiest personal mission statement ever.

Which is where my Surmising concluded. Everyone of these songs are so full of ear candy. Wonderful melodies and choruses. New but familiar. I looked back and realised that I shouldn’t be surprised. If the Candy Says song One Track Heart had been played on the stage of CBGBs in the late 70 and if Calvin’s Dream’s What Kind Of Love had been on any of REM’s early 90s records Doug Gay would be all over our radios.

And I haven’t even mentioned that voice. Huge, warm, emotional, evocative and inviting… perfect for both the pastoral and the prophetic and for songs like these.





I felt like the 2023 Oscars were like the World Cup Finals. Ireland were competing at the highest level of the game and my favourite players were there. They might even win.

The Banshees Of Inisherin. Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan. Nine nominations. Oh for just one. I was rooted for them, my Irishness big and proud.

Along with them the wee north (our wee country) with An Irish Goodbye. A short film - Tom Berkeley, Ross White, Séamus O'Hara and James Martin. James who I watched grow up in Fisherwick Presbyterian and never thought. 

Irish Goodbye

It turns out that, like me, the world needs to rethink now. On James’ birthday An Irish Goodbye wins best short film. The entire theatre sings him Happy Birthday. You couldn’t make it up! Holywood might try!

Sadly, nine nominations but no winners for The Banshees Of Inisherin. The opposition was amazing though. I am no less proud.

I put off watching the The Banshees of Inisherin as long as I could. I was frightened of how sad it would be. Eventually, it needed watched… and yes it was sadder than I had even imagined It was bleak. Utterly heartbreaking. 

Yet, what a movie! What a feat of movie making! 

I mean writer and director Martin McDonagh comes up with almost 2 hours of film based around two men, one of which doesn’t want anything to do with the other anymore. To make filling the time harder he sets it on an island off the west coast of Ireland. 

Now don’t get me wrong, there are other stunning performances, Kerry Conlon and Barry Keoghan to name but two, and the odd animal like a horse, dog and a miniature donkey (was that really the actual one at the Oscars?!?!) but there’s not a lot happening. Yet, this is bizarre and beautiful and there’s no temptation to take your eyes off it. 

Ireland looks stunning. It’s rugged, its characteristic green and beautiful. It’s wind beaten and wild. Yes, there is a certain amount of caricature but this was indeed the west of Ireland in 1923. I have just finished Niall Williams’ book This Is Happiness about electricity coming to Kerry in the late 50s. Inisherin is believable.

The strength of the acting of Farrell and Gleeson is how these actors can make a two hour film out of the simple plot of two men breaking up without reason. It is a painful watch mentally, emotionally, spiritually… it even gets physically brutal. 

Colm gets some new ideology in his mid life crisis head. To be remembered he needs to do something more than drink every day with his dull friend Pádraic. He’s going to write music instead. Taking it to an irrational and obsessive length the film has its moving fault line; a heart quake if you will allow me. For two hours Colm goes to extraordinary lengths to keep Pádraic at another table. 

Now when I mention ideology I perhaps tip my hat at what is happening across the water on the Irish mainland in 1923, when these shenanigans are said to be going on in Inisherin. We hear the odd blast across the sea.

The Irish Civil War is doing the same thing to families and friends as Colm is doing to Pádraic. Maybe we can see personal and national ideologies do the same across America and Europe in 2023. 

I could’t help looking in the spaces that The Banshees Of Inisherin gives for thinking. What have all our Irish ideologies done to one another. Some so outdated now but still dividing and causing bloodshed. 

It reminded me of that powerful allegory The Field, Jim Sheridan’s equally brilliant take on John B Keane’s play, also set out in the west of Ireland. 

An Irish Goodbye has similarities apart from the length. The son of farmers who in Northern Ireland should take on the land runs off to London but when his mother dies he has to return to ask himself not only about the farm but a brother with Downs Syndrome. Again we have two humans in conflict in 23 minutes of grief and a great deal of, laugh out loud, humour. James Martin is astounding throughout.

In an interview, maybe 40 years ago, Bono said that us Irish didn’t build big bridges or go to the moon… we wrote stories. Boy, wasn’t he right. Only one win at these Oscars but still fighting way above our weight!