Thursday 24 December 2015


What I feel 
is the cold 
dark night 
of Shepherding

shivering by the stable

not perceiving
what I have seen
not understanding
what I have heard

I want

the swaddling blanket
of a baby born
breast on which to rest
my weary head

the child-cry in me 
am I past all that?

and destined now
for mothering the child

folded in my arms

resting her head
to sleep upon me

the trusting trusted
the needy needed

Tuesday 24 November 2015

The Scarf

We do not grieve
Like those who have
No hope

But we mourn
All the same
And weep like Jesus

For death is loss
To those who remain

Our letting go
No casual achievement 

We labour and ache
For contact
A physical connection

I pick up the scarf
I bought for her
In Paris

Feel the smoothness 
Of her skin 

The soft scent
Of her perfume

And carry it with me
A year or two
Until the fragrance 

Fades away
No longer

Thursday 19 November 2015

LILAC TREE (In Memory Of My Mother)

It fell in the winter

That blew the year
She went away

I left it there
To speak

Its silence
To the clay

Waiting for some
Summer miracle

On a fallen tree

For the one
Who stumbles


From storm
To stillness

My soul
Has come
To rest

Out of the raging
New life bearing

Sunday 15 November 2015


November 15, 2015
St.Teresa Of Avila In Ecstasy
Only for God and good people there have been many days in my life when I couldn't see how I would make it from morning through to day's end. And only for God alone therehave been long nights that I might not have survived. It strikes me now that those nights were possibly the most sacred because of their aloneness and togetherness - God and I alone, God and I together in a way that is not possible at any other time. There are still such days and nights but not as many. Not for such prolonged, drawn-out periods.
I'm thinking these thoughts because yesterday I celebrated the funeral Mass of a man who took his own life. Married with three children, the youngest of whom is one year old today. And a beautiful wife whom he started dating when they were about 14 years old. They were inseparable.
I have often wanted my life to end. Seriously. But I never thought of taking it myself because I have a solid conviction that all life belongs to God and only He has the right to take it.
I have not contemplated committing suicide but I understand the dark forces that can drive a person to it.
The dead man's mother has changed her mind about suicide. She used to think it was selfish but now she realizes that something in him must have snapped to make him do what he did. In his right mind he would not even dream of leaving his family behind, of hurting them in the way that they are hurt now.
Only a few days ago I was talking to someone about suicide and whether it's a selfish act or not. We concluded not. Something too powerful must overwhelm the person who doesit. 
Whatever the motive, whatever the unfathomable darkness that stirs within the man, there is no doubting the catastrophic effect on the family left behind. The questions that cannot be answered, the guilt, the anger, the disintegration, destruction - there are not enough words to say how awful it is. They will never fully recover.
As I stood at the entrance of the church yesterday waiting for the hearse to arrive, I could feel myself absorbing all the distress of this ordeal - the crowd filling the church to overflowing, the crowd outside in the torrential rain. I wonder what can I say to all these people to help make sense of it. So many young people here. I have words prepared but they escape and all I can feel is the fretful distress growing inside, filling every fibre of my being. Not just my own distress but that of all the people, not to mention what will arrive in the immediate family for whom we wait in the cold, wet silence.
Prayer brings me to that place within myself where I go in search of God only to discover that He is searching for me as He searched for Adam and Eve in Eden. He searches in the places where I hide - from Him and from myself. Sometimes the confusion, the disturbance, the inner distress comes from this fact of God searching for me, a searching in which He turns my inner space upside down so that He can uncover me. 
"When a man thus enters his interior house in search of God, he finds it all turned upside down, for God it is who is seeking him; and God acts like a man who throws one t hing this side and another that side looking for what he has lost. This is what happens in the interior life whena man seeks God there, for there he finds God seeking him..." (Fr. John Tauler OP, 14th centuary)
This is where I find blessing in the deepest confusion of my life and I feel for anyone who cannot make this connection between God and one's own deepest distress.
This is the spirit in which I celebrate the funeral Mass - in a great silence in which even the crying of the mourners is soundless. 
I say to men especially - try to talk about what’s bothering you inside. Women have a natural way of unburdening themselves and maybe this is why 6 out of 7 suicides are men. I know at times that I can’t put words on what I’m feeling but it’s important to try for your own sake and for the sake of those who love you.
It’s important also to find things that give you a connection with the one who has died. At the offertory they bring two kinds of connections - physical and spiritual. The Man united jersey and football boots are physical connections. He has worn these, they have the touch and the smell of him in them. Touching them and smelling them for a while will help the grieving process.
The spiritual connection comes in the form of bread and wine that become the body and blood of Jesus in Holy Communion. When we are connected with Jesus we also have the strongest and most lasting connection with our loved ones who have died, the strongest and most lasting connection with life itself, the life that we are called to live right now. Part of the connection in the Eucharist is with Jesus' own experience of desolation - the cry "my God, my God why have you foresaken me?" He utters that cry in us in our desolation and he also utters the cry of surrender "into your hands I commend my spirit."
The cemetery is utterly miserable with rain and every other misery you could think of. It's as if creation itself groans and cries in mourning. And tired, everyone seems so tired. His wife holding their baby who happily knows nothing of what is taking place. But he has a connection with his Dad, a lovely connection from the moment he was born and the nurse placed him under his Dad's shirt for warmth. The picture of his little head sticking out under his father's chin. Something in him will miss and ache for this connection but hopefully the power of the connection will sustain him as he grows up.
The mother of the deceased comes to thank me. She and her husband are battered and bruised by this experience, her husband looks broken. She has a strength that shines through, a thoughtfulness and a generosity in which she says to me "I will pray for you."
At home I take off my muddied shoes and wet socks. Hot water eases the strain on my face. I know I will be rattled by this for a while but the family will live it constantly for a long time to come and  even forever. God help them.

Wednesday 28 October 2015

CANA - An Unscheduled Family Life

That the Wedding at Cana takes place on the third day is very significant because it alludes to the day on which Jesus rose from the dead and it points us all, and especially the married couple, in the direction of the resurrection. It is an invitation to new life, to the joy that flows from Jesus himself, the joy of the Holy Trinity.
A married couple become one body, one Icon of God, a window giving us a glimpse into God; one revelation of who God is and they live the priesthood of Christ in a way that is not lived by the ministerial priesthood - their love for each other is the supreme image of Christ’s love for the Church.
In giving birth to children they reflect the life-giving priesthood of God the Father. A Christian family in turn becomes an Icon and reflection of the family of the most Holy Trinity.
Marriage and family offer us the various expressions of the One Love of God – espousal, fatherhood, motherhood and the childhood – each of which is found in Sacred Scripture.
The Hidden life of the family of Nazareth is seen by St. Vincent Pallotti as one of the most precious aspects of the life of Jesus. The inner family life that is private and not public, a hidden interior life that feeds all that we are and do when we go out the door of our home to school, to work, to play and to minister. What goes on in the privacy of the home, especially a Christian home is very sacred.
Pope Francis in his homily at the conclusion of the Synod on the Family points out that faith cannot be scheduled. Family life, human life cannot be scheduled in the way that we often want or expect it to be. The thrust and tumble, agony and joy, the mess and the tidying, the unpredictability of our home all contribute to its sacredness. God is in the midst of it all with us.
In a special way the family table is sacred. I love going to visit families where there are children, to sit at table with them and go with the flow of a child’s natural, God-given way of being. It is certainly an image of what we will experience at heavenly banquet - the abundance spoken of in Isaiah, the experience of salvation, the wiping away of every tear and the consolation of every sorrow. The vibrancy and love of parents and children sitting down together is an Icon of the table of the Holy Trinity.
The marriage feast of Cana is a great expression of the table of the Lord in the Eucharist, table of the Word and sacrament, the source of all grace. It is a cenacle discipleship that has Jesus in all His fullness as its centre; a discipleship that includes the central role of the motherhood of Mary who, in the mystery of Divine Providence, is able to bring forward the hour that has not yet come. 
It is a mystery which tells us that, in the compassionate gaze of God, the need of the human person, the needs of this one married couple somehow take precedence over the "hour" of God himself. In the life of Jesus everything happens at the proper “hour”, it is the time of fulfilment. Cana reveals the parental love, especially the maternal love that always puts the needs of the child before oneself.
We run out of wine, the joy runs out of our lives and we are left empty like the earthen jars, an emptiness that expresses something of the great longing of the human heart, an emptiness waiting to be filled.
On the word of Jesus each is filled with twenty, thirty gallons of water – an abundance. But water is not what is missing at the wedding, no matter how abundant it is. The wedding needs wine and they are given an abundance of it and not just any wine but better wine. The best!
And of course Jesus is not just giving new and better wine. He is giving the new life of the Spirit, the transforming life of the Spirit, the transformation that is needed in each particular, unique situation. This is the ‘Cana’ to which every marriage is invited, every family and every solitary person.
There is a sign that Jesus seeks to work in our lives and, if we let Him, then we will see His glory in the ordinary as well as in the miraculous. And by it our faith is strengthened and in believing we are set free.

Wednesday 14 October 2015


She has courage
This woman in labour

Who holds
And feels
The pain

A sound


Hour upon
Twenty hours

She is Israel

All Creation

The all consuming
Fight for life

Fighting with Life
With God


Bringing into

Monday 12 October 2015


Excavate the tomb
Exhume humus


The dank ugliness
Of it
Of me

To nothing

Ash Wednesday's

I forgot

And never thought 
To die while still

The humbling
Of the self

Long seasons
Of dust
Laid waste

I am the soil
The seed that

The warming sun
The morning dew
The harvest of the lowly


Monday 5 October 2015

MR. IRELAND: Sunday Night At The Olympia

My nephew is a very good body builder and he invited me to the Mr. Ireland show that he was competing in last Sunday. I’m not all that keen on the display of big muscles, though maybe I’m envious, but I went anyway because I love him. And there I found myself in a big long queue outside the Olympia, easily the oldest and smallest man around.

I've never been inside the Olympia Theatre. Passed it by many times as I drove through Dame Street. It's got a lovely facade and entrance. Old world.

It's been a busy Sunday, a very painful week and I've just come from a christening gathering which was very hard to break away from. A family that I have come to love.  They throw buckets full of love all over me, without ever wanting to possess me. And they talk non stop which means that I don't have to think about talking but end up taking as much as any of them.

The queue for the box office is massive. Massive for me anyway because I don't like standing, waiting in line but I'm in a good enough space within myself now - and this is a first. I love firsts, new experiences. Doors open at 6.30 pm

In front of me is Ryan Dolan who sang for Ireland in the Eurovision a couple of years ago. He looks smaller and more mortal than he does on tv. Nobody notices him and I would like to acknowledge him and tell him that I hope the music is going well but I say nothing. The music is probably not going that well. Ireland is a small country for music artists.

I text Brian, thinking he's inside. They've been at the competition since early morning but the whole place was emptied out so that everyone has to wait in line again. Brian and Jenny are only a little ahead of me so I join them.

We're  here for Dave who's sitting with Grainne on a bench across the road. I go over. He's pleased I came and it's my first time at any of his events. It didn't go as well for him in the morning as he had hoped. Too much water in his system and he couldn't get rid of it. It must inhibit the way the muscles perform. I feel the disappointment in him. He's thinking about his Mum. So am I.

To the right of us a young homeless woman is sitting on the footpath, her back against a building wall. She looks wretched. Brian told me later that Dave went to console the girl because she was crying and later he gave her his hoodie. It's the kind of thing Dave does, Brian said.

I go back to get my ticket and join Brian and Jenny in the upstairs circle which fills to capacity, with a good number standing. It's a quaint old place that reminds me of the theatre in the Muppets. A lot of red.

The MC with the English accent is trying to work us up into form for the most fantastic show ever, inviting us to have our phones set to video on the ready.

What appears on stage is a line of 15 or so tanned young women in skimpy bikinis and impossibly high heeled shoes. They're not the amazons I was expecting, some even looking a bit Miss World-ish. They have 35 seconds to do their routine as a group to thumping music and I'm thinking that, in terms of movement if not in shape, I would do as well as any of them.

The MC calls out the names of six of them who will compete in the final and they leave the stage while the remnant receive a medallion and a sports bag.

The finalists then do a solo routine each and this involves stretching, flexing and pouting their barely covered bums at the audience. At no stage does the crowd reach anything that feels like excitement of any sort, except isolated pockets that rise up for their own particular contestant. People seem quite indifferent. But, to be fair, they've been at this all day.

There are a few different female competitions with most of the contestants coming from Eastern Europe. They literally get bigger and better as time goes on and some of the choreography is impressive as they move to their own choice of music. The music was great.

There was one lady who came first in the highest female level and it was like there was a little girl inside her, jumping out of her skin. Beautiful, just beautiful.

Brian has a very keen eye and was able to predict accurately who would do well and often he knew who would win. It's nice to have this time with him in his own zone. He and Jenny are really at ease with each other.

I can never be anywhere without thinking about God in Himself and I think of Him in relation to all those around me. Do they have a conscious connection with Him, do they even think about him? This is because of my love. I want everyone I love to be noticed, to be given due credit, respected. I want this for God.  And I wonder how He fits in here in all of this. Of course He fits in, He fits in to everybody here in this place.

Everything in this night at the Olympia is working itself up to the men's competitions, in the way that a lot of competition in life honours male physical achievement more than that of women. Physical strength is what everyone seems to want, women included, though I think women have greater strength in the areas that matter most - emotional, mental and spiritual.

The need for spiritual health is not as strongly felt as the others. While I find myself in admiration of the supreme effort put into the making of all these bodies on stage, I find myself praying that they might come to put as much effort into the building up of the soul. That I might put as much effort into my soul as they do into their bodies.

The moment arrives. The reason why we are here. Dave's group are called out on stage - 23 of them - and my heart pounds, I tremble for him, hope for him and pray. Brian's heart is beating faster! 

And then something happened to me, to my vision, my way of seeing – I no longer simply saw the display of muscles, I was no longer observing on the edge. I saw my fine handsome nephew, a young man who has a hard time of it in life, and I was proud of him, rooting for him with my whole being.

Of course I think Dave looks better, is better than anyone else and when his name is included in the final six I let out an uncharacteristic roar. I admire the confidence he displays and his routine includes a movement in honour of his Mum, my sister. 

She died 16 years ago when Dave was 12 and she was in the air between us. The audience didn’t know it but I knew that he was doing this for her and I was filled with tears, the stronges of emotions. Love and loss!

I understood that it was no longer me looking at him with my limited vision but it was Love that looked at him, it was God Himself seeing my nephew through me and I was seeing with the eyes of God. There’s an ordinary way of looking at people and life. And there’s a godly way of looking.

This is what Jesus is doing with the young man in chapter 10 of Mark's Gospel. He looks steadily at him and his gaze is filled with love and truth and it is under this beautiful gaze that the man is offered an opportunity to grow and to advance further on the road of Life – the freedom of the children of God. But, sadly, the man did not accept the opportunity offered because it demanded too much of him.

The journey into the fullness of life is very demanding, in the way that an athlete prepares for competition. Dave gave 16 weeks of rigorous training for last Sunday and I found myself saying that if I put as much effort in building up my soul, then I’d be in great shape altogether. The condition of the soul is infinitely more important than that of the body but we don’t give it the kind of attention necessary for eternal life.

Our question to Jesus is, “what must I do to build up my soul so that I am fit for Life eternal?” and Jesus gives two answers – one is keep the commandments and the second is that you need to do something more than the commandments ask. He looks at you now with love, sees you with loving eyes and says “you need to do one thing more”.

I ask myself the question, what is the one thing, what is the one thing that is blocking my way to fullness of Life, what’s stopping you living the kind of life that Jesus calls you to live?

Alas for Dave he doesn't win or qualify to go on to the world championships and I can see his disappointment, feel it again. He will not pretend, will not wear a fixed smile. To me it's a great achievement but when you put yourself through 16 weeks of intense training and diet, you do it so that you can go further. He can relax for a while now and indulge himself with kindness before he starts getting ready for another challenge.

Two Post Scripts:

I spoke about this experience at a school Mass durin the week and I was told afterwards that the man who won Mr. Ireland is a teacher in the school. Small world!

I spoke of it again at a meeting of young religious who are preparing to be nuns, brothers and priests. Among them was a young man who used to be a body builder who told me he came to feel an emptiness within and was now seeking to fulfill the spiritual part of his inner self.

Friday 2 October 2015


I walk through the doors
Of beautiful Hope
Falling headlong
Into sadness

Tears rising
From the well
Inside me

As though
I had entered
Into death
Instead of life

To grieve and not
To be consoled

The river that runs
Is stronger than I

Water will not be
Held back

Weeping will not
Restrain itself
Much longer

It is the only
Expression left
To me

Sunday 27 September 2015

No Trouble

A moment
With no trouble
In it


The last boat

On calm waters
That echo the cry
Of seabirds homing

On the island

A young lad
His voice newly

Enchants his newfound
Female friend with stories
Of the summer

Sounding like a frisky
Calf leaping in a stubbled field
She laughs her delight

The start of something

When something else
Is ended

Saturday 26 September 2015


Something lurks

My heart

The middle
Of me

A sac
A womb

To burst

Foreboding fear
That all is not

Or will not

It is a lie

Friday 25 September 2015

THE BAND: A Parallel Life

The Band

‘If anyone gives you a cup of water to drink just because you belong to Christ, then I tell you solemnly, he will most certainly not lose his reward.' (Mark 9)

A cup of water given, the gift of a musical instrument, responding to a poor person, chance encounters, a photo posted on facebook - the prophetic nature of seemingly insignificant acts. Signs of the active presence of God in ordinary life experiences.

It’s odd, even interesting at times how things converge. Sometimes I call it Providence. A friend posted a photo on facebook from the early 1970’s of the Mervue/Renmore Comhaltas Ceoltori featuring my sister Rosaleen and myself among others, including two members of St. Patrick’s School Band of which I also was a member.

The following evening we were having dinner with a family who used to live beside us in Mervue, three of whom were home from the USA for a short break. An absolutely beautiful evening of connecting and remembering.

We talked lightly about what threats our parent’s used to get us to do what they wanted. I mentioned the threat of Letterfrack that was used to frighten me into getting my act together. The younger ones at the table never heard of it. The older among us remember well the talk of it.

The photo stirred memories of a difficult period in my childhood, especially the years 1965-1966 when I was in my final year in Primary. School had become a serious problem for me when I was about nine and I began mitching when I was ten. The report of it got home and there was, quite naturally, consternation and uproar.

I was caught between a rock and a hard place. Being in trouble at school meant being in trouble at home; it meant being punished in one way or another in both places. It was then that the threat of Letterfrack was issued and I was perversely relieved at the prospect. And oddly, from the perspective of what we know today, no one ever asked me why or what was wrong and I didn’t have the words to explain myself.

But I had refuge in the empty sanctuary of the Augustinian church and the band was my great escape into a parallel world.

The Band was given to me in the ways of Divine Providence. When I was in third class the Principal, Brother Cuthbert, wanted to start a choir so he went round the classes auditioning. When he rejected me my teacher, Brother Claver, asked him to listen again and I was chosen the second time, even being given a solo for An Poc Ar Buile.

The choir transmuted into a mouth organ band and I was handed a Horner alto which he taught me to play. Neither he nor I had any idea of the importance of this moment for this period in my life. I had no ambition to play any musical instrument. It was given to me, I accepted it and, while I had no passion for it, I was technically very good.

The mouth organ band in its turn transmuted into a ceili band under the very capable guidance of Brother Albinus and I was the leader of the band, out front on my own when we marched in parades.

It was in this that I entered into the parallel life that I loved so much. Not the music but the friendship, enjoyment and especially travelling to fleadh ceoil’s all around the country. In the way that I had no words to express my sorrow, I have no words to express the joy of those days, those journeys.

We won many prizes, including all-Ireland’s as a band and as individuals. I came first in solo all-Ireland’s in 1968 & 1970 as well as a number of province and county competitions. From being an accordion, tin whistle, mouth organ band with a drummer, we graduated to playing fiddles and banjo as well. Again I was given a banjo to learn and play, though again I had no personal interest in it as an instrument. I probably didn’t even like it but it turns out that I was good at it, even being singled out for praise at the all-Ireland one year. I was mystified when the judge spoke his praise of my playing. Mystified, because it was news to me that I was any good at all.

Evelyn asks me if I was nervous performing in front of other people. Nervousness, self-consciousness or pride never entered my head. I simply played and was very content doing so. And it was the only sphere of life in those few years where there was no trouble.

I thank God for it because without it I would not have survived as well as I did or maybe not survived at all.

So, I’m thinking that God gives us gifts for a time in our lives, prophetic gifts that speak of his presence, a presence that often simply keeps us going, hanging in there for want of a better phrase.

I played the mouth organ for the season in which it was given, for its time and I don’t play it anymore because it’s time and mine has passed. There are other prophetic gifts given along the way so that I may remember the simple truth that God is with me, with us.

I have just met Andy Byrne down at the Post Office here in Shankill, a widower and mouth organ player who asked me if I picked up playing it again. When I said no, he suggested I get one and start playing – the longer type in the key of G. He and I met three years ago when his wife Nora died and I celebrated her funeral Mass. At the burial he himself played the mouth organ and sang at her grave. A most touching moment.

Is this convergence a prophetic meeting reminding me that I have need to play the mouth organ again for some reason?