Patrick Magee writes in his concluding postscript to his honest and open memoir how a moment in the middle of his life changed it. That moment was one of two that defines his life, at least in public terms. 

With the first, this second one would mean nothing. The first is that Patrick Magee is the ‘Brighton Bomber’. He is the IRA man who blew up the Grand Hotel where the Conservative Party delegates were staying during their 1984 Conference. 

Five were killed, some were left disabled and many others injured in the blast. One of those who lost their lives was Conservative MP and Deputy Chief-Whip Anthony Berry. 

Magee’s life changing event was when Berry’s daughter Jo sought him out wanting to understand the motivation of the killer of her father. Brave decision. Challenging for the bomber. Those first few hours in a room with Jo Berry are what Magee describes as perhaps the most significant moment.

It certainly is in the book. If we divide the book into three. We get Magee’s formation personally and politically in family and his experiences of nationalist Belfast, his joining the IRA because he thought then and still thinks now that it was the only way to deal with British and Unionist oppressors. Then there was the experience of Long Kesh as a prisoner. 

We then get his volunteering to be part of IRA campaigns in England, that pivotal moment of the Brighton Bomb and then his time in prison where he starts work on a PhD on how fictional novels about The Troubles misrepresents the Republican narrative and the real reasons for their campaign.

I found all of this a little bit of a trudge. For me it was slow. That might be because of my own upbringing in very different circumstances to Magee’s. I will come back to it though. That might be more important than I found it enjoyable.

For me the third section was where it all came alive. At that meeting with Jo Berry. From then on we have the memoir of a man who becomes a friend of the woman whose father he had killed. The rest of the book is about making space for reconciliation and as someone interested in such things I was fascinated. 

Jo Berry’s courage, grace and generosity of spirit needs huge respect in all of this. She isn't soft writing about their dialogue in her Foreword.  As well as Jo Berry, Magee finds Harvey Thomas also blown up in the bomb reaching out to him. Thomas is motivated to forgive by his Christian faith. Elsewhere forgiveness is recognised a difficult word. 

All these questions fill the last third of the book as Magee and Berry continue their dialogue, find themselves in TV documentaries and speaking at various Universities and Peace platforms. We even find a couple of pages where Patrick and Jo speak at a 4 Corners festival event, though he calls the Festival after the name of that evening’s event - Listening To Our Enemies. More of that in another blog.

I found it all thought provoking and helpful in my own thinking. What was most challenging and most difficult is what is probably most needed.

Patrick Magee is called upon time after time to claim that the IRA military campaign is wrong. It will be a very difficult read if that is what you are looking for. Magee admits the apparent contradictions in himself - “My own conflict is that I stand over my actions and yet profoundly regret the hurt inflicted.”

As well as working tirelessly for peace, in these past 20 years, Patrick Magee has also been keen to be an apologist for the Republican campaign. This is the challenging part of the book. Yet, as we live through all our decade of centenaries and surmise how we might move forward with two very different stories, Magee might just highlight one of the keys to unlock a better future - “The last and perhaps greatest obstacle to a shared future is the battle of narrative.”

As a result of the engagement that both Jo Berry and Harvey Thomas has offered him, Magee has experienced the benefit of dialogue and contact. It has allowed him to humanise the other. I imagine it has been the kind of challenge to him as reading this book might be to many of the victims of the IRA. Narratives need shared. Understanding needs sought. Humanising each other’s other needs to result.

If you are interested in such then take on the challenge of this memoir.



In the midst of some disappointing news in Northern Ireland over the past week, there is something very positive happening.

The week long images of streets on fire across Belfast, and elsewhere, was a horrible reminder of how sectarianism can so quickly raise its ugly head and leave some of our communities polarised and too easily turn to violence.

Brexit, the Northern Ireland protocol and the fall out of the Bobby Storey funeral has unsettled our fault-lines and when politicians seek to play to their voters in such shifts it can get even more dangerous.

Something is different though and I do not want us to miss it. Indeed I long that we notice it, highlight and encourage it.

The Churches are making joint statements and they are being heard. To hear politicians at Westminster quoting church leaders has lifted my soul.

A few years ago I was involved in Peace Talks with the politicians and military leaders of a country with its own divisions and violence. Professor John Brewer was explaining to this group that Northern Ireland’s Troubles were not religious. It was more political and tribal.

Much as I agreed that the murder and bombings of our Troubles were not about justification by faith, how we revere Jesus mother Mary or about what the bread and wine become and do during Communion, I did think that there was religious dimension.

I guess I was actually influenced by John Brewer’s writings about the churches lack of involvement in peace and reconciliation during those horrific years. Yes, we can look to Fr Alec Reid who was so instrumental in getting the IRA into talks and others like Rev Harold Good and Rev Ken Newell along with Fr Gerry Reynolds as contributors to the peace we finally found in the 90s.

However, my argument was that the hierarchy of Churches were not seen as crossing our sectarian boundaries. They skirted around each other, many of their clergy holding back real contributions. As a result though the war on the street was not at all religious, there was a religious apartheid that mirrored the streets, almost endorsed it. 

As well as that it meant that the Churches were not involved in their calling to be peace makers. We have every right to stand accused of a passive complicity.

Something has changed. It is a good thing. We are beginning to see 4 Church leaders together. We are seeing them not just having a civil cup of tea together we are hearing joint statements. During the Troubles, Churches were accused of pastoring their own communities rather than making prophetic statements into the whole community.

We must have it. I am delighted that at the moment we do. Watching Church leaders being honest about their differences but to find common ground where they can make comment about ways to fuel the common good. Standing together. Being photographed together. Speaking together. It challenges the divisions and gives an alternative. Thank you. 



I have just been watching the Northern Ireland Local Assembly discuss the violence that has been on our streets for these past few nights. After the frustration and hopelessness of the images of burning cars and buses and teenagers throwing whatever they could hurl it was a little chink of light.

The Assembly is on Easter break and needed a 30 signature petition to be recalled for a special one off motion to call an end to the violence and to support the PSNI. 

I listened to the speeches from across the parties with some encouragement. All were agreed. All were concerned about those teenagers, drawn in by paramilitaries, in violent actions that could damage their futures. All were seeking dialogue as to the way forward. All were asking for a better future than our past. 

I was drawn back though to the Easter snow falls earlier in the week. I wished to be in Ballycastle but the Covid-19 restrictions said no and so I was reading Jan Carson’s new book The Last Resort. It is set in a Ballycastle caravan park but here I am statically stuck in Belfast.

Then the snow started. Not light flurries but blizzard like, blowing fiercely at right angles. So much of it. I loved it. Watching it out the window was like post Easter show of God’s to keep us amused when there was very little of anything else new to do.

Yet, in all its visual wonder, in all its blow and bluster it was the biggest waste of snow I had ever seen. It wasn’t lying. There was no chance of it lying. What point is there in all the flouncy white flurry if it wasn’t going to stick. 

Maybe it was my Bank Holiday novel reading mindset but I was immediately recalling a Douglas Coupland quote from his novel Hey Nostradamus that goes, “We are judged by our deeds not our wishes. We are the sum of our decisions.” 

My immediate thoughts just hours after we celebrated Easter Sunday and before that remembered Good Friday was of the Church.

That image of snow falling without making a mark and Coupland’s need for deeds reminded me of what James wrote in his New Testament letter, “faith without works is dead” or Jesus going on about people calling him Lord Lord and he didn’t even know who they were or him going on about how it by their fruit you shall know them.

Oh Paul reminds us in Ephesians that we are saved by grace and not works so that no one can boast or become arrogant about it but society can rightfully judge the church by how the energies of Jesus Easter weekend changes the lives of the homeless, the hungry, the sick and the prisoner. 

This afternoon though the snow showers were in my head again as I listened to our politicians toss appropriate words out like floating flurries of goodness. Will they just disappear in the air without any lasting impression? Words without transformation are dead.

What we need now is some reassessment. Sinn Fein need to accept the shocking error of the numbers at Bobby Storey’s funeral. And, before the DUP gloat, Arlene Foster’s refusal to speak to the Chief Constable has implications as to how unionist and loyalists see the police on their streets. The depth charges of these two things have been rippling out. 

If we are going to get the mature dialogue hinted at in today’s speeches then we need to be big and strong enough to confess mistakes and to make a clean sheet for moving forward. Those would ripple much healthier messages across our society that has understandably been thrown by Covid-19 and Brexit.

Today I am praying for every MLA. I am praying that you find the courage and vision to sit down and listen and compromise and find pragmatic ways forward for the common good of us all and let go of the ideologies that are about "just us". "Just us" never brings justice. 

And then to us all… Let us watch to see if these political words land. Let us refuse to be stuck like some static caravan in a Jan Carson novel. Let us hear Douglas Coupland’s quotation in our ears at the ballot box… Let’s not vote for wishes but deeds. Let us vote on the sum of each party’s decisions! 


Fr martin et moi

(Fr Martin Magill's Belfast Telegraph column on Saturday 27 March 2021) 


In a previous article for this column, I referred to an initiative by the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) which led to the publication of Considering Grace, a book which explored how Presbyterians responded to the Troubles. To prepare for my contribution this week, I had a phone conversation with Rev Tony Davidson, from First Armagh Presbyterian Church who is the chairperson of “Dealing with the Past” the group within PCI which came up with the idea of the book.

Tony explained to me the approach which the committee took to the project which included  exploring the past -Truthfully, Therapeutically, and Together. He also explained how they went about finding people to contribute to Considering Grace. 

The book itself by Gladys Ganiel and Jamie Yohanis is in my opinion a ‘must read’. It was written by Gladys with Jamie having conducted the majority of the interviews and transcriptions, as well as providing feedback on the drafts.  I won’t say I “enjoyed” it because the authors “spoke to more victims than any other category” or group and it was painful to read about their suffering which for some continues to this day.

I commend the Presbyterian Church In Ireland for the courage and commitment in the way they went about the book knowing that the Church as an institution would not at times come out well in it. At times it doesn’t! In her foreword to Considering Grace, journalist Susan McKay writes: “Many people feel the Church was too timid in the face of the aggressive scorn poured on it by Ian Paisley in his belligerent days as leader of the Free Presbyterians”. There were also comments critical of PCI for its lack of support of its own ministers involved in “peace and reconciliation”. Two ministers working in North Belfast said this: “We didn’t feel supported by the Presbyterian Church as such. No one centrally contacted us during tense periods, and that was hard.” 

The issue of peacemaking was touched on throughout the book with a certain theme running through the comments well captured by this statement: 

“Quiet peacemakers persisted because they believed churches could contribute to peace. But for this to be fully realised, they believed churches must make peacemaking central to their missions, rather than treating it as an ‘optional add-on’.”

Standing back from the project and whilst acknowledging the criticism of PCI, I believe the Church needs credit for doing so. As I look at our society so many organisations resort to spin and presenting themselves in the best light, here we have PCI having the humility to embark on a project which would bring to light criticism from its own people. How many other organisations have done the same? Let me throw out this - what about some of the other Churches, adopting a similar approach and see what comes of it? 

Considering Grace presented various challenges such as how does a worshipping community respond when a traumatic event happened in the previous week. Several people gave examples of violence taking place in their community and no reference made to it at the Sunday worship. 

Aaron (not his real name) had this to say about dealing the past: “Somebody needs to have some vision and take some leadership on how to deal with the past, because it’s not going away, is it?” 

In this well written book, Considering Grace we have the example of the Presbyterian Church In Ireland showing leadership and offering one way of dealing with the past. 

This week’s scripture verses come from the book and were quoted by people who spoke to Jamie or Gladys: 

Monday: Matthew 28:20

Tuesday: Ephesians 3:20

Wednesday: Philippians 4:7

Thursday: Proverbs 3:5

Friday: Romans 12:19 


Peace Day

The stories of Jesus birth and the theology within is not just for Christmas. It is for all year round!

The peace that the angels sang about that first Christmas is not some Christina side show but at the core of Jesus incarnation and the purposes of God.

My favourite band Over The Rhine have been exemplary at the first. They make records like Blood Oranges In The Snow. It is not just another great Christmas album. It is another great album - period (as their fellow Americans would say!).

I love that record and it was indeed a song on it that opened up the importance of peace in God's redemption plan in ways I had not got the full impact of before. A few of the lines jumped out from the rest of the brilliance and torpedoed its way into my soul surmising. 

As they sang…

“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 clicked. 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 this and I have written about that song.

However, in this song 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 Peace Day, I commit afresh to the Gospel priority and commit to it with renewed courage, hope and all the grace that is intrinsic to the baby born and sadly often lacking on our streets, political buildings and even our churches - all the year round!

SHOUT THEIR NAMES OUT LOUD (For Those Who Were Killed in The Omagh Bomb)

Omagh poem


Sitting somewhere in middle America

I am transported by a song

From a screen it booms me back 

To the place that I belong

And the singer cries to God

Like its some cathartic prayer

Lamentation and hopefulness, one

A hundred thousand hands in the sir

And these tears rolling down my face

Remember the wisdom a student says

This long road to peace is longer

After you’ve used bloody and violent ways


The singer shouts their names out loud

Like a sacred vow

A holy somehow

That our hearts would bow

To a grace healed now.


Gareth Conway

Mary Grimes

Brenda Logue

Esther Gibson

Avril Monaghan and 

Her daughter, Maria Monaghan

Adrian Gallagher

Anne McCombe

Alan Radford

Elizabeth Rush

Lorraine Wilson

Deborah Cartwright

Julie Hughes

Jolene Marlow

Samantha McFarland

Veda Short

Geraldine Breslin

Olive Hawkes

Brian McCrory

Sean McGrath

Fred White 

His son, Brian White

Breda Devine

Philomena Skelton

James Barker 

Oran Doherty 

Sean McLoughlin

Fernando Blasco Baselga

Rocio Abad Ramos


Yes, shout their names out loud

Like a sacred vow

A holy somehow

That our hearts would bow

To a grace healed now...


"...No more

No more

No more..."










I have just finished Colum McCann’s astounding novel Apeirogon and above everything else that struck me was a Rumi quotation - “Out beyond the ideas of wrong doing and right doing, there is a field. I will meet you there”.


Surely, of all our Northern Irish politicians John Hume got closer towards that field than most of the rest. Though I grew up to be suspicious of the nationalist SDLP it was a lazy binary politics that heaped John Hume on the other side of the barricade amongst the IRA.


Fr Martin Magill have long debated with Sinn Fein that there was a better way to take the anger and frustration at the injustice and inequality of the Protestant state for a Protestant people that Northern Ireland was built on. Why violence we ask?


John Hume was the one who took the Martin Luther King Jr road rather than the ANC route. Hume didn’t believe in the violence. He worked for peace. I always think of that day that Fr Alec Reid brought him the envelope containing the conditions by which the IRA would enter talks. 


Fr Alec had just attempted the kiss of life on two British soldiers, brutally murdered at an IRA funeral outside Casement Park. He had to get a new envelope at Clonard Monastery before driving to give it to John Hume because there was blood from the soldiers on the original. 


In that one afternoon, yet another tragic one in our Troubles, with paramilitaries and British soldiers and bloody murder there was a priest and a politician seeking the field beyond the right and wrong.


It is that evening that I thank God for when I watch my children grow up in a different Northern Ireland than I did. That day ended with a dawning after the darkest of beginnings. 


David Trimble would join that process on down the road and again today I was giving thanks for his courage. The most difficult thing in bringing two intransigent sides together especially after decades bloodshed, murder and grief is to bring your suspicious, hurting side along with you. On Good Friday 1998 Hume and Trimble achieve that rarest of things in Irish history. They well deserved their Nobel Peace Prize.


That field at the other side of whoever has their opinion of right and wrong. Oh I dream about it, I try to imagine it and I attempt to make my own tiny contribution on our journey towards it. John Hume gave us all a huge leap down that road. He did it for all of us, whoever we are, wherever we are from and whatever we think about him. 


I know many on the side of the barricade that I grew up might not see that today but I believe that when we get past our right and wrong we will come to understand that.




We thank you for the week of prayer for Christian unity

We thank you for this attempt to respond to the prayer of Jesus that we would all be one

Forgive us when we have been divided

Forgive us when we been arrogant 

And that arrogance has turned to bigotry.

Forgive us for our complicity in a divided society

And the pain that we have caused one another.


God we thank you that you promise that when we confess our sins that you are faithful and just to forgive us of our sins

And purify us from all our unrighteousness

Lord purify us in our relationships with one another.


God, we thank you for the work of Fr Gerry Reynolds and Rev Ken Newell

We thank you for those at Clonard and in Fitzroy

Who took risks

Who crossed the boundaries

Who learned to love their neighbours as themselves

We thank you for that vision and courage

We thank you that we see the benefits of Fr Gerry and Rev Ken’s work even here this morning


God we pray that they might continue to be our role models

That their work would continue to inspire us

We pray for the Reconciliation ministry of Clonard 

And as part of that the Clonard Fitzroy Fellowship

Lord by your Holy Spirit give vision and guidance to show fresh ways to continue that work


God we pray for the Clonard pilgrims

We thank you for their worshipping with us in Fitzroy

And all that that means to us

We thank you for the relationships that they have formed across our city and beyond

Create real Christian fellowship in the congregations they visit

Melt hard hearts and create unity in Christ.


God we pray for the 4 Corners Festival.

We thank you for the involvement of Clonard and Fitzroy in this initiative

We pray for the programme that starts next Friday

We pray for the speakers and singers and poets

We pray that the events of this year’s festival

Would contribute to the building of a city of grace

We pray for those who come along.

Lord change hearts

Redeem attitudes

And transform relationships across all 4 corners of our city

And Lord begin with me


Finally Lord we pray for our Local Assembly

For all of our MLAs and particularly our ministers.

For Arlene Foster

For Michelle O’Neill

For Naomi Long

For Edwin Poots

For Deirdre Hargey

For Diane Dodds

For Peter Weir

For Connor Murphy

For Robin Swann

And for Nichola Mallon


Equip them all to do their jobs

Help them overcome the hurdles

Envision them to do their best for all of us

God we pray Stormont would work

For every corner of Belfast

And every corner of the north

Jeremiah asked us to pray for the peace and prosperity of the city

Lord may it be so

For the common good of all of us

God build a city of grace

In Jesus name



Stockman in Taylor

In November 2019 I had the privilege of speaking at Chapel in Taylor University, Uplands, Indiana.

It is a University I had been to many times and love very much. 

This year I brought a few things together in my talk - BEING WITH OUR ENEMIES. Basing it in Luke 6 where Jesus asks us to love our enemies, I unpacked a 10 week series I had preached in Fitzroy on Sam Wells' idea of BEING WITH. What is it like to be with our enemies? I then used 4 Corners Festival as an example of how we are trying to be with.

In the end this is a very good way to hear a lot of what I preached at the end of 2019 crammed into 25 minutes... follow the link below...


(with thanks to Sam Wells and Jim Wallis, from whose work I got my American illustration)



Stormont Back

I cannot get away from the powerful coincidence. Could a burial in Scotland have a prophetic message for a resurrection in Northern Ireland.

On the day that the Northern Ireland’s Local Assembly got back together after three years, Graham Maule was being buried in Craufordland Woods, near Glasgow. 

Graham was an architect, sculptor, art tutor and best known to many of us as a hymn writer. Along with John Bell, his fellow Iona Community member, Graham wrote hundreds of hymns and arranged many more. If you have ever sung Marching In the Light Of God, then Graham Maule touched your life.


I did not have enough time in Graham’s company but those moments that I did whether in Glasgow or at Greenbelt I found him a real gentleman. He had a relational warmth. He oozed grace. He embodied a holiness defused of any self righteousness. He enjoyed whiskey and curry and justice and compassion and liturgy. I have grieved since his passing on December 29th and prayed for my friends who who will miss him most.

His funeral though was a revelation, particularly in the juxtaposition of it with a restoration of the Stormont Assembly.

Graham’s Burial Liturgy which was lengthy included three languages. 

The New Testament reading from 1 Corinthians 15 was taken from William Lorimer’s Bible translation in Scots. The “I am tae mind ye o the Gospel at I preached tae ye” would be well appreciated in Ulster Scots corners of Northern Ireland. 

Later in the service Mhairi Lawson sang in Gaelic, Taladh Criosta - The Christ Child Lullaby. Those promoting Irish would be delighted with that.

This was not a contrived peace service where the planning committee sought to compromise and make sure that everybody was represented.

This was an amalgam of one man’s life, representing his loves that happened to be, for a visual artist who also made a mark with words, the three languages that naturally blended across his worship and vocation. 

Our politicians at Stormont, how I wish you could have experienced that natural blend. All of us on this island are influenced in our language and culture by our close neighbours in Scotland. Whether it is our sense of Celtic-ness or our sense of being Ulster Scots, we know that Scotland is deep in our DNA.

It begs the question. Why could languages so beautifully weaved together in the celebration of one man’s life have been used to tear us apart?

When I hear my friend Mervyn Gibson speak about the politicising of the Irish Language, I can see what he means. I would have to suggest that Ulster Scots has been abused in similar ways.

BUT… both Irish and Ulster Scots are a fundamental part of ALL of us. I am sure that Nationalists in the Glens speak Ulster Scots daily and I am sure that there are Protestants who say that they live in Ballyhackamore (warning: DO NOT give them a literal translation).

I come from Galgorm, near Ballymena. It is from the Irish - Geal ghorm - that means sky/clear blue. Ballymena United wearing that colour might be linked. My Grandparents were the most fluent Ulster Scots speakers I knew. Right there in that village we find the same natural blend of languages that we find in Graham’s life.

So, I want to challenge Sinn Fein. Do not make exclusive something that belongs to all of us. Mervyn Gibson, please do not just casually, without any sort of struggle, throw away part of the identity of us all. You speak a lot about respecting identity but seem to dismiss this vital part of it way too easily.

On January 10th 2020 Northern Ireland got a new start. As the Local Assembly meets there will be many battles ahead. Language rights will continue to be contentious and will need to be solved. Could one way forward be to see the lessons shining like beacon from the funeral service of Graham Maule. Three languages blurred into a gifted wordsmith’s obituary. Can we not find a similar beauty in the identity of our wonderful and wounded place?