It was another personal privilege to get the opportunity to interview Duke Special at the 2021 4 Corners festival. Here are 10 things I learned about Duke Special.



Some time in the late 90s Peter Wilson who would become Duke Special asked me to be his manager. I had managed Iain Archer and Iain’s talent, not at all my management, had got him places. I was seen as the man. I wasn’t and I was also really enjoying Chaplaincy life in a Residential Hall. I passed Peter on to Stephen Orr, staring out with real enthusiasm. 

I say all that because to be truthful I liked Peter’s work but didn’t think it was good enough to make a career of it. 

I was wrong. In researching this evening I came to admire the unique gifts that Duke Special has far more than I ever have. This man is not just a singer. He is an artist. His body of work includes pop songs, collaborations with an Irish trad bands, a legendary poet and musicals for theatre. In everything the melodies, the arrangements, the thoughtfulness of content and lyrics is so impressive.



Paul Pilot sees production as trying to help others find their voice. What a job he did with Duke Special. Peter Wilson went through a few years of different musical ideas before finding his voice. That voice became Duke Special. Paul Pilot it seems was the friend who encouraged Duke to follow his vaudeville/musical hall/pop hybrid.



I wonder how many collaborations that Duke Special has had if you count co-writes, projects, players and guests at gigs. The sizeable number speaks of an artist who doesn’t let ego get in the way of art and who is welcoming of disposition. The crux of his band for two decades has been a gang of brothers that came together from various places as if they born to share this music.



Duke Special has written with award winning songwriters, poets and playwrights. He chatted about writing the wonderful Condition with the amazing songwriter Boo Hewerdine and the healthy competitiveness of trading lines. Duke then added. “But I came up with the ‘the words are crawling back inside the ink’ “said Duke with a glint. What a line indeed.



In researching the interview I discovered the breath and depth of Duke Special’s art. In a documentary Paul Pilot speaks about looking for adventure and producer Paul Pilot adds “and a little mischief”. 



That adventure was played out in the belief that more interesting locations could play a part in not doing the same musical thing twice. Production of the I Thought This Day Would Never Come started in Champaign Illinois and then moved to Cullybackey, less than two miles from the original Stockman homestead. The adventure and mischief is key to the outcome. 



I have so come to admire Duke Special’s authenticity. I was particularly taken by two things he did in the making of Hallow, his record of the legendary Michael Longley’s poems. For the song Remembering Carrigskeewaun, between two gigs a long way away, he traveled to record sounds of nothing more than wind and birds! Also in the poem The Ice Cream Man where Longley’s poem named 21 flowers from County Mayo and later discovered there were actually 21 flavours in the Ice Cream shop on the Lisburn Road. So… before every gig that he played on the Hallow tour it Duke lays out 21 flowers on the stage. This young man is serious about the art!



Since his move into theatre, Duke has been writing for different characters. What is the difference I asked? Duke spoke about finding empathy in the character and finding a little bit of himself in every one. That authenticity again.



I always considered that it must get tedious for an artist to play the same song over and over every night. Duke however shared how playing the same song every night, if it is particularly confessional, about some mistake once made could be played over and over in an artists heart and soul. It could actually be damaging. Not touring as much as he did I don’t think his Dukeness misses this!



Duke Special has moved in his creedal belief over the years but there is a spiritual reservoir that draws out some nuggets of wisdom. Two songs have left me with depth charges rippling across my soul. Condition that highlights our contradictions “I am holy/I am disaster”. In A Dive reminds those who think they are holy that God is found in intriguing places and “Don't shrink it down to the size of your head/You know that some things are more than can ever be said”. Amen! Advice for the pilgrim to hear.


WATCH the In Conversation HERE


Breathe Out

The morning after the 4 Corners Festival is usually the early feelings of post Festival blues. I had known this ailment way back in my Greenbelt days and had warned Fr Martin Magill about it at the end of our second Festival. The next day he rang to tell me that he understood exactly.

It is a feeling of being bereft. Bereft of the events. Bereft of the buzz. Bereft of the adrenaline rush of a busy week. Bereft of the audiences and the post event feedback around tray bakes. Bereft of the sense of team camaraderie. Bereft of the anticipation of the next event.

This morning was slightly different. I did have a sense of relief that we could breathe out and there were not pressures on us today about plugging events and making sure everything was ready for tonight. Yet, many of the normal berefts were absent from this year’s Festival. We had already missed seeing regular 4 Corners folk and one another. 

There is still a rush of reflection. The mind is filled with events. There is a jotting in the notebook of things to think about for next year. Lessons learned. New ideas stimulated. 

There is also a combing through the insights and stories and songs of the events that particularly resonated. Again the notebook gets a little work as I think about the depth charges dropped into my soul. Are there a few blogs in there? Where is my life changed as a result - rebuked, redirected, inspired? Watch this space!

My over riding feeling is of gratitude. At Night Prayers, every evening, Jim Deeds would ask us to think of a reason to be grateful. There are so many. 

I thank God for the idea he inspired over a coffee in Lenadoon in September 2012. 

I thank God for my fellow committee and Board members, brothers and sisters with like minds and passion for peace. 

I thank God for our staff. Megan is amazing as an admin. Martin O’Brien has gotten us lots of wonderful press. Alan Meban and Richard, Martin and Emma at Accidental Theatre put everything on line. They all went beyond the call…

I thank God for the contributors who played a proverbial blinder whether as speakers, panelists, poets, actors, musicians, singers, actors, comedians, dancers… we are so blessed to have such talent willing to support what we are trying to do.

I thank God for all of you who went online and registered for events, who watched and listened and shared your comments. It assures us that that idea wasn’t some idea of ours and that all the last Fridays of the month when we laugh ourselves towards a programme that it is indeed God who is giving us a clue to what might reach you all.

I thank God for funders. We have so many organisation who pay for staff and events.

I thank God for all the donations that you have given. There was no tesseracts this year so we are aware that you needed to be more intentional and go onto the site to give. Thank you!

I thank God particularly for the Friends of The Festival who give us a monthly donation. This doesn’t only help our cash flow throughout the year BUT there is a real feeling of support. 

Can I add that it is not too late to send us a donation now. We would so appreciate it. It helps us to look ahead in the development of the Festival and not be so dependent on the whims of funders. 

So today is the time for a good rest BUT… you’ve guessed it Fr Martin Magill is coming up with idea upon idea upon idea for 2022. If any one comes close to his social distance can you please pull his Duracells out! 

Enough to say… 2022 is going to eb great. Hope to actually SEE you there! Thank you again!



Stocki in Ho's TV

Fitzroy Sunday Service goes on line at 11am as usual. The Lectionary Reading takes us into the homes of Simon and Andrew where Jesus heals Simon's mother-in-law. That opens up all kinds of fascinating insights... and then with the crowds closing in he has to find space for prayer. We will find our place in humanity's order of things is so crucial to salvation and resurrection.


Before that at 10.15 I have a big hand in this year's 4 Corners Festival Sunday Service even though my voice will never appear. It goes out on BBC Radio Ulster and can also be seen if you register at https://4cornersfestival.com. We have original songs, the Festival theme song and familiar hymns redone. There will be poems, including one from the profound Richard Carter and Charlotte Curran from CFC will be our preacher.


Finally, the final event of this year's 4 Corners Festival goes out online at 7.00pm. This will be an event that takes us out of the Festival and into the year ahead. To help us do that we are thrilled to have the amazing voice of Beki Hemingway who has written a song especially for the evening, the poetry and wisdom of the amazing Damian Gorman and some comedy from Play It be Ear. David Campton will send us out with the help of Diane Holt. It will be a fitting finale. 





McCrea Belfast from Cavehill

Photo: Philip McCrea - Belfast, Sunday just before sunrise from Cave Hill 


A prayer I prayed in Fitzroy just before the 4 Corners Festival 2021 where the theme of the Festival was Breathe...


Lord, when we think of our city and our world

Over these last 10 months

We are aware that we have had the breath knocked out of us

Not only by Covid

But by sectarianism, ever with us

And racist attacks 

Like the one in the Belfast Multi Cultural Centre building

That uses to be a church

Donegal Pass Presbyterian met in that building

And some of us worshiped there

A racist hate crime

Knocking the breath out of people’s lives

And Domestic abuse Lord, 

Sometimes literally knocking the breath out of us

Businesses on the brink Lord

In these strange times, knocking the breath out of us

Brexit’s uncertainty, knocking the breath out of us

And the pressures in hospitals and schools

Working on our frontlines

Breathless, weary

And Lord there has been illness, grief, isolation

It is not only the physical that we are feeling

But there is pressure 

On our mental, emotional and spiritual lives

Like the breath is being knocked out of us

And so we pray for our city

Our world 

And our own lives

That you would breathe

Your warm sweet breath of love

And comfort, strength and resilience.


As we breath in Lord

May we breath in

Your warm sweet breath of love *


And Lord we are aware this morning

That we have a city and a world

That needs that warm sweet breath of love

Breathed upon it

Lord “may we be your breath

Moving over the face of the deep

May we be a particle of your light

Glowing over the hills of morning” **

May we be your resource

To breath out

The warm sweet breath of love

And comfort and strength and resilience

To all of those that we may meet

Though that is less likely in lockdown days

But to those we intentionally reach out to

In social media, or my phone or by letter

Or maybe even just prayer at a distance.


As we breath in Lord

May we breath in

Your warm sweet breath of love

As we breathe out Lord

May we breathe your warm sweet breath of love

Across our city… and our world.



* The Warm Sweet Breath Of Love is a song by Horslips

** These lines are from Bruce Cockburn's song The Hills Of Morning

ROUGH - Short Film - My Response!


One thing about a ten year friendship with the ubiquitous Fr Martin Magill has me never surprised where he turns up. After the showing of the short film Rough the writer Declan Lawn explained how wonderful it was to be showing it at the 4 Corners Festival as Fr Martin Magill (who else?) had inspired the film.

Back in 2018 Fr Martin had sent out two tweets on the same Sunday evening. One was about a young man shot four times in his arms and legs. The Tweet got 18 engagements. The second Tweet was seeking help for a pigeon that he had found injured. The pigeon got 1350 engagements. Declan found this horrendous and phoned his mate Adam and Rough was born.

Rough is dark. It’s rough. There is horror and humour. The dog never ruffs though! There is also absurdity, poignancy, social critique and a prophetic edge. It lingers with you…

The idea that a dog, Buddy, would be up for a paramilitary beating seems far fetched but as Bunter, the paramilitary leader’s, cat has been killed we find a crazy kind of realism. 

Sadly there is too much realism at play. These beatings are all too real in so called post conflict Belfast. Sometimes parents even bring their children to be “punished”. Yet in Rough we find hard tough men struggling to kill a dog but shooting young people in the knee and calf without a second thought.

A quote from Duncan Morrow suggests that we only shrug at these vicious beatings. What sort of society is that? Someone on the chat line, up the side of the Zoom panel discussion, spoke about living in a part of Belfast where the landlord admitted it was happening but without fuss and it was almost good security. Writer Declan Lawn, a former journalist, suggested it need to be further up the news schedule. I am left asking serious questions about our growing class divide. If these beatings were taking place in BT9 how much closer to front pages would they be?

The haunting question after the Zoom was turned off was what to do now. A shrug is not enough. This indictment on our society needs more engagement than Fr Martin’s Tweet received. 

BUT… there was something else. In the midst of all the macho community bullying there was personal tenderness, compassion, forgiveness and Christlike sacrifice. Mucker loves his dog and does everything to save Buddy’s life. He actually at one stage offers himself in place of the dog, like an atonement. Christlike.

Having failed that attempt, before Buddy is executed Mucker gets on his knees and sensitively talks his wee dog into eternity, a better place than all this around them. It is beautiful. 

The film ends with another spiritual twist. Jordan, another young victim of the neighbourhood bullies, comes to Bunter’s door. They share chat about their wounds like middle class young people might talk about Saturday’s Rugby injuries. Then Jordan tells Bunter that he killed the Bunter’s cat with his catapult. Mucker’s dog might have been actually trying to save the cat!

The half truths of hearsay back alley juries gets exposed. Now Mucker knows that the cast he is hobbling in and the pain beneath was all a result of someone else’s misdemeanour. Just as you wait for more anger, revenge and violence to be unleashed, maybe a crutch over Jordan’s head, Mucker tells him not to worry about it. 

The real bravery; of confession and forgiveness. Now that’s what our city needs! 


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. 




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.


4 CORNER'S FESTIVAL 2021 STARTS Jan 31st. BOOK FOR EVENTS HERE - https://4cornersfestival.com


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… https://4cornersfestival.com


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 https://4cornersfestival.com



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 - https://4cornersfestival.com