I was sorry to hear of the death this week of Liam McCloskey. McCloskey will probably be known in Irish history as one of the 1981 hunger strikers. For me he was an inspiration in forgiveness, understanding and reconciliation.

For the past decade I have found myself digging deep into my life as Fr Martin Magill and I have been quizzed about our reconciliation work together. We often say that at most of the events we end up learning something about each other… and about ourselves.

It therefore amazes me that I had missed a night at Queen’s University around 1983 or 84. I think it was probably and Outreach event. It was a seismic moment in the direction of my Jesus following for sure.

Basically two former paramilitaries Packy Hamilton formerly UVF and Liam McCloskey formerly INLA shared their stories of finding Jesus in prison. McCloskey’s story was particularly intriguing as he had been one of the Hunger Strikers, his mother bringing him off it after 55 days. These were powerful testimonies for sure.

Two things impacted me greatly. 

The first was something that shook me about Liam’s story. He told us that while he was on hunger strike he had read through the Bible. This amazed me at the time. A Catholic, Republican terrorist reading Scripture on hunger strike. I wondered about how we had considered the hunger striker? Did we think they were seeking God? Had we prayed for them?

That was a real humaniser for me. I started seeing hunger strikers as human. Republicans as human. Catholics as human… and that God was working away among humans that perhaps we had dismissed.

The second lasting image of the evening was the two men clearly reconciled. Both men admitted that just a few years earlier they would have killed each other BUT here they were now friends, brothers in Jesus. It was a strong symbol of reconciliation that lingered.

I remember the whole evening firing me up for peace and reconciliation. It broke down barriers. It built a foundation. 

I met Packy Hamilton a couple of times after that but I never saw Liam McCloskey again. I often wondered where he had ended up. On his death this week I watched an interview that he did with my friend Jonny Clark. I again found it inspirational.

Liam spoke of that reading through the Bible in the Maze prison and how he was struck by, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”. He also mentioned a line in St Francis of Assisi’s prayer, not so much “to be understood as to understand”. Forgiveness and understanding the British became very important for Liam. 

That is Liam McCloskey’s legacy for me. People can change. Jesus can be the centre of that change. We should rehumanise those we might have dehumanised and in forgiveness and understanding there can be a reconciled future for us all on this island.  




I wrote the lyric for this about World War 1. I was putting myself in the soldier's boots of the teenagers in Fitzroy who went off to war. From their unmarked graves they ask us what their sacrifice was worth? What kind of world did they give their lives for?

As Russia invaded Ukraine I had this sinking feeling that there would be more teenagers made to go through the hell of war. 

Surely we do not want this as the legacy won by our great grandparents and great uncles and aunts. The late twentieth century gave us some hope that another world war was beyond us. As we watch the horror of the Ukrainian invasion may our leaders hear the haunting voices of our beloved ghosts of the first two World Wars.


Thank you Jonny Fitch for an amazing co-write and performance...




It was almost as if the BBC were recognising that it was 4 Corners Festival Week. 

I was excited to see that the short film about Colin Davidson’s Silent Testimony Exhibit; Brendan Byrne’s Hear My Voice. It’s powerful and emotional

After it was over, I sat in silence and then a film started called The Railway Man. I was needing an early night but heard the word reconciliation so I watched on.

Colin Firth plays Eric Lomax who is a Railway enthusiast. On a train he meets Patricia, played by Nicole Kidman, and they fall in love and get married.

Lomax’s past haunts him. He was a Prisoner of War under the Japanese in Singapore, working on the Burma railway that also gave us the films The Bridge Over the River Kwai and To End All Wars.

In the camp, Lomax created a receiver to hear news about the war but was a accused of transmitting secrets too so he was tortured - beating, food deprivation and waterboarding. 

Thirty years later and Lomax is still dealing with psychological trauma. Watching him live out that trauma was harrowing for his wife and friends… and indeed us viewers. 

His best friend discovers that Lomax’s torturer, Takashi Nagase is still alive and working as a guide in a war museum in the very same place.

His wife encourages him to return to the scene of his trauma to deal with his past. When he arrives he confronts Nagase and interrogates him as he was. He lays out Nagase’s arm to break it… but cannot. He puts him in a cage and prepares to waterboard him… but cannot. 

He returns home and receives a letter of apology from Nagase and returns a second time with Patricia. In the very last scene, the torturer and the tortured meet. One says sorry. The other forgives. They actually become friends. Hollywood doesn’t like happy endings but this is a true ending.

I was drawn to Jesus words in the prayer he taught his disciples, “Forgive those trespass against us as we forgive those who trespass against us”.

Forgiveness is a tough word. A deep word. When are 4 Corners Festival used the theme Scandalous Forgiveness one year people asked us to change the word. In Northern Ireland we don’t like the idea. Too tough. Too deep.

I am convinced that it is Jesus way. Tough… deep… but Jesus way. Some have suggested that asking people to forgive can be like a second sentence. When people are going through the trauma of loss then we add the guilt of having to forgive. 

Jesus intention is the opposite. Jesus believes what Eric Lomax proved. Forgiveness is not about adding trauma. Forgiveness about releasing trauma. Once he forgave Lomax was healed. It was tough. It was more than tough. It was very deep. Yet, after he forgave Lomax had no more trauma.

In Northern Ireland we struggle that forgiveness might happen without justice… or repentance. That final scene had the tough and deep word forgive sitting alongside the tough deep word sorry.

On 4 Corners Festival week. That was a double whammy of TV programmes.


Bloody Sunday pic


For the people of Derry on the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday... and for ALL who were lost... and ALL who still feel the trauma...


"You are the salt of the earth"

- Jesus


"We lament the violent deaths of Bloody Sunday today. The very possibility of reconciliation in light of such deeds, might seem to be beyond us. Yet the gospel calls us to live beyond ourselves. Bless these and all grieving families, to whom we send love in Christ's name today."

Rev Dr David Bruce, Presbyterian Moderator by Tweet


"There are various attitudes that can be employed. There are those prefer to stoke the flames of rage, believing that the fire of anger will cleanse the wound r promote a modern agenda. There are others who want to let sleeping dogs lie and prefer not to grapple with uncomfortable truths that might disturb our comfort in the present.  But there is another way. It seeks to acknowledge the past but to have compassion and forgiveness for those who were caught up in systems and situations that they can now look at with other eyes. There is a grace-filled art in forgiving and remembering. It takes a wise heart to look at the rubble of what has been shattered in the past and to make it into a foundation for the future. If all we do with the past is to use it as a heap of angry stones to throw at other people, then we cannot build. Either we process the rubbish of the past and make it into life-giving compost - or it lies in the corner and benefits no-one. I hope that our celebrations this weekend will help us all to build a future full of hope for our young people and not nourish them on bitter anger that can only kills and destroy. A new society on the island needs big hearts. It will not be created by small minds."

from Bishop Donal McKeown’s homily at the 50th anniversary Mass of Remembrance for the Victims of Bloody Sunday


"And here watching the night

As it opens like a flower

And the day starts to rust

Feeling time pound

Like a silent hammer

On this empire of dust

And I'm thinking bout the bullet

And the TV screen, the dollar, and the clenched fist

And if we're searching for peace

How come we still believe 

In hatred as the catalyst

Oh through the borderline

In front and behind

One pain ending

While another begins

Lies, ruin, disease

Into wounds like these

Let the truth sing


Let the truth sting"

- from David Gray's song Let The Truth Sting



Lord in this 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday

We stop to remember the wounds of Derry today

The bullets of that day and the lives lost

The bullets that have continued to fly through these 50 years

The bullets still travelling in hearts, minds and souls

We pray for Derry today

And we pray for every other murderous event of our Troubles

And for all who were lost

And for all who have grieved

And fore all who continue to grieve

May the Holy Spirit be their comforter

God show us the wounds of our world

Show us the wounds of our society

Lord show us the wounds of our communities

Lord show us the wounds of our Churches

Lord show us the wounds of our friends

Lord show us our own wounds

Show us the lies, The ruin, The disease

Lord into wounds like these

Let the truth sting with healing and challenge

The truth of your love

The truth of your mercy

The truth of your justice

The truth of your cross and resurrection

The truth of your alternative Kingdom

Your will on earth as it is in heaven

Lord may I be the one who let’s the truth sting

May I live to let it sting

May I live to release it from leather pages

And lovely songs

And Church buildings

May I be the salt of the earth

To let the truth sting 

From my life

In my love

In my joy

In my peace

In my patience

In my kindness

In my goodness

In my faithfulness

In my gentleness 

And in my self control

Lord make the truth come alive in my flesh and blood

So, into lies, ruin, disease

Into wounds like these

Let the truth sting.


De Klerk

I was so sorry to hear about the death of FW de Klerk, former President of South Africa. Not only have I a deep love and connection with South Africa but one afternoon in 2002 I actually had the privilege of meeting him.

Between 2000 and 2008 I took University students to Cape Town. We were primarily building houses with habitat For Humanity but over the years added other prongs to the trip; HIV/AIDS, Fair Trade and Peacemaking. 

On the Peacemaking we invited David Smith from the PCI Youth Board to do sessions with the team before the trip and then to come with us to do some study in the field, so to speak. David pushed his luck. Being from Northern Ireland seems to give you access to some very influential people when it comes to peace and reconciliation. 

Somehow David pulled off the most amazing meeting with 

FW de Klerk, the former President of South Africa who released Nelson Mandela from prison and negotiated the democracy that came to that rainbow nation in 1994. 

Mr. de Klerk came and met us in a little Church hostel on Bree Street in Cape Town. The staff could hardly believe what was happening and who was walking through their little modest hostel.

There will be different opinions on FW de Klerk, perhaps even in obituaries written this week. In the end, whatever his failings de Klerk was the leader brave enough to end apartheid, free Nelson Mandela and set South Africa on a road towards democracy. Even when he came into power it would have been almost unfathomable. 

In my meeting with him I was nothing but impressed. Yes, afterwards we questioned a far from flawless political life BUT he was quite honest with us in the mistake that apartheid was and how the Bible has been so helpful in coming to terms with that. 

Reflecting his words back into 2002 N. Ireland, four years after the Good Friday Agreement and still bickering over power sharing and weapons decommissioning we were taken by the courage of de Klerk's leadership and his ability to bring his people with him in such a turnaround. We were discouraged that we saw no leaders back home with such gifts.

I picked up something from what he shared with us that has travelled with me down my work in reconciliation that I had no idea would even happen back then. 

He gave us various steps towards peace. It was the first two that grabbed my attention. 

The first step was to search yourself to the very marrow in order to make sure your motives were pure, in your attitude towards the other in your reconciliation and the ambitions that drive you. The second, he went on, was to check again in case you were bluffing yourself with how well you searched yourself! Clever preaching!

As I surmised the visit and what FW de Klerk shared I wrote this. I thank him for coming to meet us and for sharing his story of transforming his country from apartheid to democracy alongside Nelson Mandela. 


Search me oh God

Down to the very marrow of my soul

Take every selfish part of me away

That would stop me from being whole

Help me peer inside my prejudice

To see the incentive of all my actions

Make kind the reflexes of my heart

Make gentle the strength of my reactions

Help me squint at every weakness

That comes from family and neighbourhood

To smash all idols of destruction

And create the art of all that is good

Search me oh God

Down to the very marrow of my soul

Take every selfish part of me away

That would stop me from being whole

And when I’ve let you search oh God

Believing to be in Your Spirit’s collusion

Let me look just one more time

For any remnants of my own delusion.


Peace day 21


The first time I heard Over The Rhine sing Another Christmas... 

“I hope that we can still believe

The Christ child holds a gift for us

Are we able to receive

Peace on earth this Christmas”

… something went off deep within me. It is not a new line. I have been living with this line most of my life. I cannot remember a time in my childhood when I didn’t hear it at Christmas time. I heard it for years before I even believed that what it was talking about was any kind of reality. For the last thirty years I have worked the phrase annually. One of my other favourite bands U2 even had a song called Peace On Earth and I have written about that song.

However, it was during one of Stormont’s far too many crises and I was surmising that peace was not high on some of our politicians’ agendas that that near over familiar line, “Peace on earth this Christmas”, struck a chord as loud as any Jimmy Page strum and as spiritually powerful as an Old Testament prophet or actually a New Testament angel on the night God came to earth! 

“Peace, Steve, Peace” is what my soul kept repeating. It is not about justice or vengeance, it is not about proving who was right or wrong. It is not about us and them and us winning. The point of this mission that God had in coming to earth was peace. That peace was not just for my soul. It was about peace on earth. Anyone following this Jesus whose birth is heralded in this angel’s song should be all about peace. 

This of course is not an out of the blue declaration of a God reaching for some Plan B or C. The Old Testament was all about this peace; shalom is how the Jewish people said it. Shalom was God’s intention in the law given, for the King’s to achieve and for the prophets to critique the lack of. A favourite verse on the subject that I have blogged often is Jeremiah 29:7 “And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace.” (NKJV)

Those who claim to follow the baby born when the angels sang need to find that priority of peace. That God’s people would seek shalom wherever they were was a way of being God’s holy nation, a people set apart, different, in all the right ways, from the other nations. We need to not blend in to the world’s intuitive response to seek to be proven right, in control and avenging all who would come against us. We need to be about that ministry of reconciliation that God told us we would be about just as we are connected to God himself through that same ministry of his peace making.

On this International Day Of Peace, I am wearing my John Lennon War Is Over t-shirt. The strap line is “if we want it”.  The love, the reaching out across our divides, the scandalous forgiveness, the imagination to find ways to compromise. We need to want it.

God demands that we want it. Peace is high on God's agenda. He declares it. He commands it. He seeks that we would be committed to it. We need to see afresh this Gospel priority and commit to it with renewed courage, hope and all that grace that is intrinsic to the baby laid in the manger.

Ephesians 2 - 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.




I was so sorry to hear about Nanci Griffith’s death this past week. There was a period in the early ‘90s when her albums accompanied me across Ireland. 

I was the Youth Development Officer for the Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Ireland. The roads in the early 90s weren’t great. It could take hours to get from Dublin to Limerick or Cork or Donegal. A trusty portable CD player was my dearest friend.

I was mad into songwriters at the time. John Gorka, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Jimmy MacCarthy… and Nanci Griffith was very much in that listing. She was a great lyricist. Songs like Trouble in The Fields, Once In a Very Blue Moon, covered beautifully by our own Mary Black and Love At The Five and Dime, particularly the storytelling introduction version on the live album One Fair Summer Evening to name a few.

However, there was another reason that I was drawn to Nanci. She loved the Ireland that I was working in and exploring as I listened. On Grafton Street gave the a seasonal feel in cold Dublin streets and even had Larry Mullen Jr on it; It’s A Hard Life Wherever You Go had us in a taxi on the Falls Road dealing with our divisions; and I Would Bring You Ireland was a love song where the love of Ireland was a gift to the lover.

That last song has been playing very powerfully with my heart this past week. Most of the summer I have been driving across the Glens Of Antrim. From beaches, mountains, cliff tops and roads across cultivated, defined and beautiful farm land of forty shades of green I have been madly in love with the very Ireland that Nanci wants to send her lover. To live on this island of radiant beauty and to enjoy it day after day. I feel blessed.

Then you read the news. Some of us gifted the beauty of this place want to poison and stain it with the hatred that Griffith told us about in It’s Is A Hard Life Wherever You Go. Putting flags and political posters and photographs onto bonfires is a sectarian cancer that both our communities need to rid themselves of. Politicians from both communities need to work harder at eradicating it.

Ireland like a lover has me forever. I love this place so much. Yet at times it abuses me, hurts me deep. The bonfires of July and August have hurt and I was so thankful of Nanci Griffith reminding me of my love and the wonder of this utter gem of God’s creation set in the Atlantic waves.

Back to the loss of Nanci Griffith. I was most impressed by this social media post by Belfast songwriter Ursula Burns who wrote about how she met Nanci at the Belfast-Nashville Songwriting Festival: -

We met over breakfast at the Dukes Hotel and started playing a few songs..... 12 hours later there was up to 20 musicians.  I think it was the best day of my life. Nancy bought me wine all day and I played harp while she sang. Every year after that she came up to say hello and always remembered my son’s name and made a fuss of him when he was with me at the gigs.  I loved her. I loved her songwriting and her voice and her spirit. I was blown away that i got to play with her and will always be eternally grateful to the Belfast/ Nashville festival for making stuff like that happen on ordinary rainy February days!

Now that is my kind of songwriting hero. Love and prayers to those closest to her. Nanci Griffith songs will mean a lot to so many of us for a long time to come but they will ache and grieve her loss the most.


Bonfire 12


I have nothing against responsible bonfires on Eleventh night. It is a part of the culture of a large percentage of our Northern Ireland population. However, when flags and effigies, symbols of the people that God loves and Jesus gave his life for, are set on fire on the bonfires then it screams of a culture of hate. I pray for, and commit myself to, creating better cultures across our land.


Strike the match of supposed tradition

Listen for what the flames tell

In every flag or effigy burning

There’s a crackle of the devil’s yell

This is no cultural celebration

This is the hate of the clan

Sectarianism in petrol and wood

The fires of hell being fanned


So, let’s take all those empty pallets

Old tyres, their tread worn thin

Pile our pride there, way up high

With all our arrogance and sin

Hurl on myths that we’ve been told

All those lies and exaggerations

The caricatures we paint ourselves

That cripple our children and nation

Watch the sparks of repentance fall 

Our Troubles burn in the flickering light

Warmed by loving of even enemies

On a glorious bonfire night. 



(the house was my Grandparents thatched cottage in Galgorm)


I remember the arch going up. My grandfather put it up. Right there in the middle of Galgorm village, right outside my Grandparents thatched cottage. It was a moment in the year. I loved seeing the village landscape change and got so excited when my dad would drive under it for the first time.

Dad put the flag out. All the neighbours did the same. Maine Park was ready for the Twelfth Day.

I would decorate my toy golf club with red and blue tape. It would be criss crossed carefully and we might even add a wee tassel. It was suddenly the band leader’s pole which we twirled through our legs and twisted round our necks and threw as high as we could. The leader of Staffordstown band at the time was the best twirler and thrower; who we all pretended to be!

The Twelfth would be a carnival of sorts. My Grandfather marched with his Orange Lodge and we stood by the side of road waving at who we knew and waiting for Granda to walk by. Maybe some day I might get to carry the strings from the banner at the front of the lodge. 

I moved house in 1969. It was more middle class. No flags! None of my friends threw the pole. At the same time The Troubles started raging and all of the innocence of the above turned a little more sinister.

What am I surmising? Well, the first thing is that none of the above was in any way wrong. It was a cultural thing. I was unaware that it had anything to do with sectarianism or hatred. I even had Catholic friends who came to watch the parades too. 

Somewhere this all got hijacked. When arches and flags go up today and when bands march in certain places there is a different feel, a different intent. I am in no way trying to condone the actions of some who are using the carnival, I so enjoyed, to mark territory and stoke tensions. It is not right, not civil and certainly not Protestant!

Yet, I am asking many of us to stand back, stop for a moment and consider. For many of our Protestant Loyalist communities the Twelfth is still a cultural and neighbourhood event. The young boys love collecting for the bonfire, the young men love the discipline of the bands and can play some good tunes while marching. They love their band uniforms. The arch and the bunting all adds to the colour, flavour and excitement. 

Such communities should be allowed to enjoy their summer festival time. Let us be careful that we don’t just see the tabloid headlines of the few bad news events and miss the many good news stories unreported. I love the image a friend shared of the Romanian community in Ballymena out enjoying the bands with their GAA shirts on! 

Yes, we do need to ask about the way the flags are flown. When a flag is used to intimidate then the flag is desecrated. 

When a band plays insensitively in Catholic areas or outside Catholic Churches we should make it known that they are wrong and are bringing into disrepute the very Protestantism they are claiming to defend. 

When a bonfire is so high that it threatens those living around it, it is irresponsible and should be removed. When effigies of who they claim to be enemies or the Irish flag are burned then it is a blasphemy against God who loves people from every nation. That needs called out.

Barack Obama, in his eulogy to Rev Clementa Pinckney in Charleston in 2015, spoke about the confederate flag and how it is being used in a wrong way to incite fear and hate. He most beautifully and powerfully brought the great Protestant theology of grace to bear on it. It would be an act of grace to bring it down where it offends neighbour, he preached. That would be the mark of a good Protestant.

I look back on my days in Galgorm with fondness. If done in a way that is steeped in grace then not only should our loyalist communities have the right to celebrate their Twelfth but that grace will be the power house that will cause them to celebrate with all their might but gently towards their neighbours. 

Let us pray for community leaders, Church leaders, band leaders and political leaders who can steal back what is a right and a wonderful part of Northern Ireland’s rich tapestry of culture. Love your culture and when you love the God of your culture you will love your neighbour, and even your enemy, in the way you march, fly flags and light bonfires. 

Enjoy the Twelfth!


Lost Lives Church

photo from the film Lost Lives


“The bullets are still travelling.” 

It might have been Northern Irish portrait artist Colin Davidson who said that, while speaking at a 4 Corners Festival event about his Silent Testimony exhibition. 

Colin of course meant that the bullets and indeed bombs that killed people during our Troubles are still having their impact. For those who lost loved ones it is not back then, it is still now. I think that that is another line stolen from Colin.

Today is a Day Of Reflection in Northern Ireland. Every June 21st, the longest day, Healing Through Remembering invite the people of Northern Ireland to reflect on our loss. It will not be on your news bulletins. It is a more private thing. A remembering.

This year I have been reflecting a lot on those who lose loved ones and how the bullets and shrapnel is still impacting hearts and souls and minds. 

The Ballymurphy Massacre Inquest started my mind racing. As each of the families of the ten, who were declared innocent after fifty years, shared their traumatic stories I realised that we were listening to the toll of the Troubles. Too often we count the dead. We catalogue those killed. It is too easy to forget that the bullets are still travelling, the bomb still exploding.

I was suddenly quite emotional, thinking of those left behind. Parents, spouses, children who had to live with the consequences. There were economic consequences. There were empty chair consequences. Yet more than that the psychological impact of the trauma of loved ones killed in such violent and bloody circumstances.

I began to consider those I knew who lost loved ones. 

Today I am thinking of my friend whose mother could never come to terms with his father’s death that she had been far too close a witness. I thought of his brothers who never got over it and died of the consequences far too young, the bullets got them too. I had more admiration for my friend who had made it through.

Today I am thinking of my friend who was left in a wheel chair after his neighbours, the target of the gunmen, never returned so they just riddled him with bullets instead. Turning away from cold blooded revenge he now studies peace building at Queens University Belfast and has contributed immensely for victims and survivors.

Today I am thinking of a former colleague who also lost father. He was only two. I thought of his Godly attitude of forgiveness and reconciliation. My admiration grew and grew reflecting on his desire to look forward to a peaceful future than any kind of vengeance.

Today I am thinking of another friend, his sister and mother. His dad was blown up on the day that his mother was going to share the news that they were expecting him. This is a family that inspires me so much. A mother who somehow left with the most horrendous situation brought two amazing children up to live for reconciliation 

On this day of reflection it is these are the quiet heroes that I am quietly remembering. How did they manage to divert the bullets and shrapnel still flying to find resilience and strength and grace in such circumstances. 

These are the unsung heroes who don’t want sung about who in many ways paid for our peace (might be Colin again) and who now work for our future when the card they were dealt could have led them down so many cul-de-sacs of our past. 

Today I reflection… remember… and pray…