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 - https://4cornersfestival.com



Rain rings trash can bells

And what do you know?

My alley becomes a cathedral


I’ve long loved this Bruce Cockburn lyric. The entire song actually. It is from his very first record in 1970. Cockburn asks almost as a prayer:


Oh, Jesus, don't let Toronto

Take my song away


It is as if the city is the bad guy. To hold on to faith and love and everything spiritual we need to get out of the city. 

Declare me guilty. I love those walks on Ballycastle beach that I mention so often in these blogs. There, with the sound of the waves and the wonder of God’s creation all around me, uncluttered I sense God.

Or I remember almost 30 years now, driving through the red stone deserts of Nevada and Arizona and understanding why the apostle Paul took three years in the desert to prepare for his ministry. There was something sacred about it all. Something that you don’t feel as you look down a back alley with black bins over flowing with rubbish.

Bruce Cockburn asks that the trash and traffic wouldn’t take away his song.

Yet, my Canadian songwriting companion has spent the rest of his career finding that the alley can become a cathedral. He finds God’s light so lyrically in some of the world’s darkest places. 

I was drawn back to Cockburn’s work reading Richard Carter’s book The City Is My Monastery. 

Rev Carter was a member of an Anglican religious order in the Solomon Islands who found himself in parish ministry at St Martin-in-the-Fields, smack bang in the middle of London.

I can hear him singing Bruce Cockburn…

Richard’s book is not some memoir of how he came to terms with that shift in vocational call and geographical space. It is a work book (Rowan Williams’ words for it) for how to make the city your monastery. Or as Cockburn put it how to find a cathedral in an alleyway.

Under the headings With Silence, With Service, With Scripture, With Sacrament, With Sharing, With Sabbath, Staying With and When The Me Becomes Us, Richard leads us into how to be a pilgrim, disciple, in the clang and clamour of a city in the 21st century. 

He does so with real spiritual insight and also with lots of beautiful poetry scattered through it. 


Our monastery is here and now

Where you are today

The person you are speaking with

The room you are sitting in

The street where you are walking

The action you are doing now

This is your monastery

This is your prayer

Eternity is now

The city is our monastery.


This is all a good thing when we stop to consider that the Bible is different to Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock. We do not, as Joni suggests, have to get ourselves back to the garden. The culmination of Scriptures is not that garden back there BUT a garden city. The new world longed for is a a new Jerusalem coming out of heaven with a river running through it.  

We are delighted that Richard Carter is speaking at this year’s 4 Corners Festival. Imagine our lockdown house is our monastery… our cathedral. 


Discovering Our Ability To Be Resilient

To complete our focus on resilience today, the award-winning broadcaster and journalist Seamus McKee chairs a panel discussion that includes Rev. Richard Carter, Associate Vicar for Mission at St Martin in the Fields, London; Rev Kiran Young Wimberly, an American-born Presbyterian minister and folk singer based in the Corrymeela Community, on the north Antrim coast; and Br Thierry Marteaux, OSB, of the Holy Cross Abbey, Rostrevor, Co. Down.

BOOK NOW - https://4cornersfestival.com



Breathe, at least for me, is the theme song for this year's 4 Corners Festival.

It was written a number of years ago. There was one of those too regular tense moments in Belfast. At a meeting to discuss the crisis someone said that we needed a breath of hope. 

A few months earlier in a tense moment at a 4 Corners Festival event David Campton stepped up to the podium and to bring a moments calm said, "Breathe in... breathe out..."

On the telephone one evening when I was feeling down about the impact of all of our peacemaking efforts Fr Martin Magill encouraged me with words of St. Ignatius, "Run towards your doubts!"

The talented Jonny Fitch made the lyric song and then during Coronavirus we tweaked the lyrics to include the idea that God is always hovering over dark places, creating, just as he did in Genesis 1.

The question is will we be the dark... or the light... the kiss... the breath. Which?

Delighted to add that as we blog the song this week Jonny is Number 1 on Youtube with the Sidemen! 


Book for 4 Corners Festival 2021 here https://4cornersfestival.com



Running Festivals eh?! Not easy at the best of times but… in Coronavirus Times…

Now for the most part we have conquered the actual putting on of the Festival. Take a look at the programme. It is strong - https://4cornersfestival.com

Some of our planning committee were shrewd back in March. They were sure that we would still be in some restrictions and needed to be flexible in our planning. As a result, in the strictest of lockdowns we are ready to roll out a festival. It is online… it is virtual… BUT it is rocked up!

Where it gets tricky is letting people know that a Festival is on. There are many things that I believe we will discover over the years about our time in lockdown. One of them is that we lost the power of gossip.

Now I hear you. Gossip is bad. Well it is when it is hearsay, rumour and judgemental. I wonder if a blessing of lockdown has been a whole lot less of that sort of gossip. That is not the gossip I mean.

I mean that every day chitter chat through which we communicate so many things that none of us read or watch on TV or studied at school. Little nuggets of information that pass across tables in cafes, desks in work, counters in shops, pews in churches. 

Every year when we do our surveys about the 4 Corners Festival and ask how people heard about it the majority answer “word of mouth”. Now you can see why I am grieving the loss of gossip. The most powerful way to communicate events or news or truth is in potency of conversation. Jesus liked it better than preaching!

Of course there is another way that people find out about 4 Corners Festival. The programme. There it is on vestibule tables, all over church coffee areas, even in shops and librarys and cafes. There are thousands of them. You cannot stay away from them.

Except… in 2021 if you are ever in the vicinity of places where we would have had programmes you are probably breaking the law! 

What about Billboards I hear you say. They are probably cheap at the moment. They are. Less traffic! 

So… you can see our problem. Could you help? We will need the lockdown alternative gossip - or maybe we should call it, the more respectable, chit chat - share/retweet/message/text… We do believe that the Festival will be a breath of fresh air across the city, giving us all an opportunity to breathe in some grace and then breathe out some imagination. Spread the word! 


Racism Donegal pass

There was about a 15 minute period last night when I thought that it was our building on fire. I was tipped off on social media to a fire on Donegall Pass. We took the keys to the former School of Music just this week. The building had been given to the Belfast Education Authority back in the 1930s for use as a school. It had finally been returned.

I was a little relieved when I discovered that it wasn’t the School of Music but my relief was short lived as I realised that what was burning was the old Donegall Pass Presbyterian Church building at the end of the Pass. Donegall Pass Presbyterian joined Fitzroy in the early 70s. We still have members of that Church worshipping with us. To see the roof of that historical church burnt through is heartbreaking.

Yet there is a deeper ache. It would seem that the fire is being seen as a hate crime. This historic building was set on fire deliberately. It was currently being used by the Belfast Multi-Cultural Association (BMCA) with particular emphasis in these difficult times on feeding the community. It is hard to find words to respond to that. Blatant vicious racism in the heart of Belfast. 

We are very aware of racism across the world. Since George Floyd’s murder last May in Minneapolis, Black Lives Matter has being making a mark across America and seeing English soccer players taking the knee before kick off is a weekly, nearly daily reminder of a campaign that needs all our support. Indeed it is hard to believe that over 50 years after the murder of Martin Luther King that this is still an issue.

Surely that is one of humanity’s very worst contemporary sins. Not only the sin of it happening as in the arson attack on a Multi Cultural Centre in Belfast but the sin of how it first began and the sin of how it has never been stamped out across human history.

Racism is a sin against God and humanity. God made humans in his own image and there is a preciousness about every single human being that Jesus revealed in his dying for the world - every nation. The culmination of all things as laid out in Revelation has every nation around God's throne.

Any contrived reading of The Bible that suggests other than this needs highlighted and discarded as the heresy that it is. It has been wonderful to see such action taking place in South Africa and the apology from the Dutch Reformed theologians for their hateful error.

Here in Northern Ireland we haven’t needed other races or colours to sin against God and humanity with our own inhumanity to one another. However our binary divisions have held back work on how we treat other races and welcome them into the fabric of our society.

The 2021 4 Corners Festival has decided that we as a festival can wait no longer.

On Wednesday February 3rd we will be holding an event called Building Breathing Room For Diversity with:


Dr Michael Wardlow, former chief commissioner of the Equality Commission will chair split panel discussions with: 

Adriana Morvaiová, chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Council and founder of Appreciating Cultural Exchange (ACE); 

Lori Gatsi-Barnett, chair of Horn of Africa People's Aid Northern Ireland (HAPANI); 

Eileen Chan-Hu, executive director/co-founder of Cultivate Respect, Appreciate Inclusion in Communities in Northern Ireland (CRAICNI); 

Dr Livingstone Thompson, Minister in Charge, the Moravian Church, Belfast

Sheikh Anwar Mady of the Belfast Islamic Centre. 


They will address questions such as how the churches here have contributed to the conversation around race and racism; whether race-informed power structures are at play in the churches and what ecclesial inclusion look like. 

Last night’s events in a building with a history linked so closely to Fitzroy highlights the importance of such an evening. Please join us in challenging racism in our city.


BOOK HERE https://4cornersfestival.com


4C 2021

If we were blessed as the 4 Corner Festival to have gotten the 2020 Festival over before Coronavirus might have closed us down we are not so fortunate for 2021. Or are we? At least we have had eleven months to prepare.

I couldn’t quite believe that as early as March we were talking about virtual events. We have been planning for some kind of hybrid of gathering and virtual ever since. Then this new surge has us ending up completely virtual. 

But… there will be a 4 Corners Festival and… it will be a good one. 

After ten months of this virus we want to give the city the opportunity to breathe… an opportunity to just stop… take that deep breath that gives a moments calm and resilience. We have an entire day on resilience. 

We also want to breathe out some imagination. At some stage of 2021 we will come out of this strange time into something new. After so long it is unlikely to be as it was back in March 2020. What it will look like though depends on decisions we make. This year’s Festival hopes to breathe imagination into that future.

To help us we have some great speakers and artists. In talks and panel discussion and film and drama, comedy and music we will breathe in and out.  Speakers like John Paul Lederach, Duke Special, Racquel McKee, Rev Kiran Young Wimberley and more will help us through out the week. 

Check out the programme and our new morning and night prayer too:




The theme of this year's 4 Corners Festival is Breathe... In the intensity of the times we are inviting everyone to take a deep breath and join us in our explorations of mental health, prayer and embodied breath, racism, abuse, creation care, and more. Help us breathe out hope in troubling times.

This song came to mind as I pondered the festival's theme. We had the privilege last year of having a Gary Lightbody interview as part of the Festival. This Snow Patrol song uses breathing as a way to find equilibrium in difficult moments.

I think that this is one of Belfast band’s most complete song. The stripped down version on BBC Radio 2: The Piano Room reeks out even more poignancy. It takes the emotional tenderness of Run and Crashing Cars, gives it that Snow Patrol anthemic swell and then adds the ingredients that make it a song for a healthy soul.

It is very much a pastoral song in my idea of that entity. That first listen came at a time when a good friend was going through a dark night of the soul and all I could think about was that this was everything I wanted to tell her. I immediately linked it with U2’s Stuck In A Moment but felt that it went further and deeper.

Keeping it in my friend’s scenario, Bono speaks about the situation itself and asks my friend to look beyond the moment, see beyond the horizontal walls pressing in and rise above the moment to see a more hopeful future. I think that that can be good advice, and I have used it, but Gary Lightbody’s lyric hits a deeper spot.

Lightbody targets my friend’s life itself and asks her to look not at a wider perspective of time beyond the moment but at a wider perspective within herself right now. She is more than this one dimension of her soul that is being oppressed. This heartache, deep and damaging as it is, is only part of who she is. Focusing on the other aspects of her life might be that which keeps her on her feet to find that happier day: -

“Then in one little moment

It all implodes

This isn't everything you are

Breathe deeply in the silence

No sudden moves

This isn't everything you are

Just take the hand that’s offered

And hold on tight

This isn't everything you are

There's joy not far from here

I know there is

This isn't everything you are.”

There is that practical advice that gives a nod to this year's 4 Corners Festival theme.  In the midst of whatever is sweeping over us there is a warning to not to do anything rash. I have used this with people in the midst of dilemmas that are straining the relationship between their head and heart. "Breathe deep... No sudden moves". Breathe in... breathe out... feel the breathe of God... find calm and ease your way through whatever it is with prayer and reflection until you find all those other more wonderful things that you are.


4C 2021

So, after many months of hibernation and imaginative incubation we are delighted to tell you that the 4 Corners Festival 2021 programme is almost in the can for 2021. No pandemic is going to stop us from attempting to bring Belfast together and contribute some goodness into the ether.

5 things I am excited about:


1. Our theme. Breathe 

As the website says, The Hebrew word Ruach means ‘breath’ or ‘spirit’ – the source of life. In our 2021 Festival, we seek to tap into that spirit and breathe hope into our city, fostering creativity and resilience as we respond to the challenges of the pandemic.”


2. Our logo…

Brian O’Neill has done a great job by taking the Breathe… theme and giving it a Belfast signature. You can tell that Brian has been blowing some bubbles with his young son Ronan because as soon as we told him the theme he had Nuala breathing out big imaginative bubbles all over the city.


3. Our platform… Virtual/Actual/Hybrid

We felt particularly blessed in 2020 that our Festival was one of the last in Belfast before the world went into lockdown. Coronavirus has threatened so many festivals but from our first planning meeting we were focused on having a 2021 Festival, no matter what.

Well, we might be locked down but we are rocked up and ready. We want to highlight how even staying well within the restrictions that are attempting to fight off this virus that we can present a quality festival. Enjoy it from the comfort of your own home. There will be no postponements due to the weather!  

This has added to the challenge but has been another instigator of imagination. 4 Corners Festival 2021 will be unique as a result.


4. Our Keynote… John Paul Lederach

At last. We have been trying so hard to have John Paul Lederach as a key note speaker for so many years. One of the advantages of these “lockdown” days is that we can welcome him virtually from Indiana right into every corner of Belfast.

A world authority on peace and reconciliation with a working knowledge of Belfast there is also a fascinating chapter in his book when Blood and Bones Cry Out where he unpacks how Van Morrison’s catalogue healed him after a bad car accident. 


5. My In Conversation With Duke Special

I cannot lie but my 4 Corners Festival series interviewing some of my very favourite songwriters has been a personal thrill, not only of the Festival, but of my life. This year we follow an amazing series of Gary Lightbody, Brian Houston, Ricky Ross and Iain Archer with an evening with Duke Special.

I have known his Dukeness for twenty five years and am looking forward to talking to him about how Belfast has influenced his work not only on record nut in this theatre work and his PhD thesis. Expect some compelling chatter and even more compelling music. 

I will even enjoy the over indulgence in Duke Special’s work between now and then… Quiet Revolutionaries Vol 2 ordered already!


See the full programme and book your spots here: 




Stocki and Fr Martin

photo: Bernie Brown


Dear 4 Corners Festival Goers,

We would like to thank you for your incredible support at this year’s Festival events. We were overwhelmed by the attendances, day after day. Ten days is a lengthy Festival and we are aware that many of you showed stamina by being at multiple events from beginning to end. We hope that you enjoyed (though enjoyed might not have been the right word at times) the Festival programme as much as we did putting it together.

As we reflect on the Festival there are far too many highlights to pick one or even two out. We hope that like ourselves you are taking time to unpack all that was said and sung and recited. There were many “depth charges” that will ripple on in our minds and hearts and souls for some time.

The Festival, thanks to all of you, has grown enormously over its 8 years. That has brought with it financial implications. It has been vital for us to take on administrative staff. We also want to be able to give a generous honorarium to attract speakers and artists.

We are dependent on your donations in our Tesseracts and even more dependent on grants. When a funder turns us down, as one did for this year’s Festival, that is difficult.

We therefore wondered if some of you would shift your generous Tesseract donations and give us a monthly contribution to help us with our year round costs (https://donorbox.org/become-a-friend-of-the-4-corners-festival). This would not only make next year’s Festival easier for us but also allow us to think ahead and plan for the next few years.

We believe that the 4 Corners Festival has become a strong contributor to tearing down our traditional barriers, bringing people together and allowing us to listen to one another and be inspired to make our mark as individuals and a community on bringing Belfast together.

We invite you to join us as Friends Of The Festival,

Fr Martin Magill and Rev Steve Stockman

Jeremiah 29:7


The Island

Not once but twice at this year’s 4 Corners Festival we were called to reflect on Paul Brady’s powerful peace anthem, The Island. 

Firstly, Jim Deeds placed a raw unrehearsed version when Tommy Sands had got the date wrong and was on his way to Sydenham Methodist during the actual gig. In the shadow of the Cranes the line “Whitewashing slogans on the shipyard walls” was never so perfectly placed. Jim opened a window on the soul.

Exactly a week later Ken Haddock was at it again. In Fitzroy not too far from the Belfast Markets area this time it was “They’re raising banners over by the markets” that fitted the space. Ken is one of our very best interpreter of songs and in an event entitled Belfast Song Book he brought a more deliberate take. He eked out the sadness, the love and the hopeful poignancy.

Both versions were great contributions to a Festival trying to bring Belfast together. Jim Deeds if from The Falls Road and understands Ken Haddock’s admission, in Fitzroy, that growing up on the Shankill Road he didn’t know anyone from “the other side” until his late teens.

That two singers brought up in two different sides of the city should choose to sing this same song should not be lost on us. Brady was living in Dublin but had been born in Strabane. He was a central figure in the Irish folk scene for almost a decade first with Planxty then with Andy Irvine before turning his hand to mainstream songwriting in 1981. His Irishness was part of his songwriting DNA particularly on the poignant Nothing But The Same Old Story.

Others from that scene tended to lean towards supporting the Republican struggle. Most notably Christy Moore who made a whole record about the H Block Hunger Strikes. Moore at the time ridiculed Brady’s song but later toned down his rhetoric.

Brady saw the criticism coming and dealt with it:


“Now I know us plain folks don't see all the story.
And I know this peace and love's just copping out.
And I guess these young boys dying in the ditches.
Is just what being free is all about.
And how this twisted wreckage down on main street.
Will bring us all together in the end.
And we'll go marching down the road to freedom....


When Brady released The Island brought this song out during the 80s Northern Ireland was right up to its bloody neck in violence. Murders were common place and hope for peace was a long way off. 

The Island is a sad song. A lament, if you like. He does it by doing what Damian Gorman taught us about poetry at another 4 Corners Festival event. Brady takes The Troubles in one hand and a love song in the other and blends them together.

It is as good a song of peace that has ever been written.