Monthly Archives: July 2015

Cricket and the happiness of summer.

I am several planets away from those who lined up their bottles at Lord’s for England’s latest debacle.  That’s cricket.  That’s life.  We are always 10 balls from the next catastrophe.  The shipping forecast intervenes to give us news from beyond the boundary.  Viking.  Southwest 4 or 5.  Showers.  Moderate or good.  Summer is here.

We used to save our pennies, our twenty-pence pieces and our pound coins for a fortnight in Portstewart, looking down on those promenading below our vantage point, as the winds occasionally blew in from Malin.  We played cricket on the beach with all of our friends and family, in the moments around Graham Dilley’s epic run ins and Ian Botham’s cameos.  It was all witnessed on the portable holiday TV,  a TV that my brother had bought and was one with auto-tuning.  My father always asked, ‘What is happening in the cricket?’  I was always able to answer, having sat watching it the whole day.

Malcolm Marshall was my hero and always will be.  I absolutely loved the West Indies of the 1980’s.

And then the summer ends.  The wind changes direction.  The emotion that I feel when the final test match closes is a sure sign that the leaves are getting ready to fall and the swallows are departing again.

Cricket is a key part of the fabric of life.  It signals summer.  It may be moderate or good.  There may be occasional rain and gales, gales that are occasioned by the skill of any particular bowler.  That is all part of the spectacle and often a key part of the temporary depression that may result after a poor performance.

Summer must end.  Play must end.  The darkness returns.

A new chapter and a new hero waits for the wind to change direction again.

The Spirit of Enniskillen Trust.

The moving story of the conversation that Gordon Wilson had with daughter as they both lay under the rubble after the horrific 1987 Remembrance Day bombing in Enniskillen, and the way that he reacted to his terrible loss had a huge impact on Northern Ireland.  It was key moment in the long road to peace that followed.

Gordon Wilson founded the Spirit of Enniskillen Trust, a project that aimed to foster understanding and respect across the community divide, aiming at the young people who would eventually lead, guide and inspire the methods, modes and development of true reconciliation.  His words, his vision and his belief that change was possible was his real legacy  to the young people of Northern Ireland.  A full generation passed through, were trained and given voices by the young people who led the scheme into first decade of the new century.  Their work will continue, despite the setbacks and the new mechanisms, the Spirit of Enniskillen will live forever, as a beacon of hope to those who pray for a new path to guide a child, a family or a nation out of darkest conflict.  Of course, one of the strengths 21st Century scheme, was that it allowed young people to fuel the dynamism, lead the dialogue and to stretch beyond the initial direction imagined.  Empowerment.  Energy.  Engaging in making a meaningful difference.

I am a veteran of the scheme.  I still remember getting my, ‘Dear Denvir letter,’ acknowledging that I had successfully navigated my way through the interview.  It must have been my fabulous answer to the question, ‘Do you speak a foreign language?’  My answer, ‘Well I can ask for a ham sandwich in French.’  They sent me to Germany.  My English explanation of my French must have been as bad as my actual French.  I may have put on an ‘Allo Allo,’ accent.

Most of what I remember of our 1991 trip to Germany was Disco orientated.  Let me explain.  By the early 1990’s in Northern Ireland, time had already moved on, the music scene had moved on again, but sadly, the Troubles remained.  In the early 90’s, during my university years, Northern Ireland would witness more horrendous terrorist related atrocities.  In Germany, our group left the Troubles at home.  That was a clear recipe for dance.  I don’t say this flippantly.  One of the key aims of the original scheme was to take a cross-community group of young participants away to a different context and give them an opportunity to engage in conversation  about controversial issues in a ‘safe space.’  Again, in the early 1990’s, as it was in the late 1970’s, young people were already mixing and dancing together in multiple clubs, letting their feet engage with the Indie, Grunge and emerging Rave scenes.  I was in my post-Metallica, meaningful Cure phase, before I settled on Country.  The Spirit of Enniskillen Bursary allowed young people to come together in this ‘shared space,’ before allowing participants to engage on those issues that divided.  It was a truly groundbreaking scheme.

I am probably one of the few from the 1991 cohort who kept their evaluation report on the experience.  What did I say?  I said that the best characteristic of the scheme was that it, ‘supplied a safe environment in which to discuss controversial issues with the other side.  Certain discussions that our group had in Germany would have opened a few eyes.  By promoting this sort of discussion, the scheme is perhaps helping to lay the foundation for greater peace in the future, in which the opposing politicians also find it easier to have talks.’  ‘The scheme allowed a certain trust to develop between members in the group, a trust that allowed discussions to become more open and honest.’

I went on to give my first thoughts on German unification.  ‘In talking to the East Germans, certain things took me by surprise.  Number one was how the East Germans praised the Communist system for it’s social policy, for example, having more Kindergartens.  To me, this was unthinkable, as I didn’t think that Communism had any good aspects, however, I think that it is unlikely that the people in East Germany would sacrifice their new found freedom for more Kindergartens.’  This insight made me laugh.

Our group all agreed that contraception and abortion were not issues that should be determined by religious leaders.  Very radical in 1991.  We all agreed that Ian Paisley’s politics should be a spent force.  We were a bit premature on this one.  ‘The vote for the monarchy got a 6/2 defeat, with a couple, including myself, not really caring if there was a monarch or not.’  This comment also made me laugh.

I advocated the following in 1991.  There should be ‘surgical strikes’ against the cancer of terrorism, to remove it from society, by force.  My attitude was changed by the group.  ‘I believe now, that such an out and out policy against terrorist groups would perhaps only serve as a means of propaganda for them, increasing their support, rather than defeating them.’  I laughed again.

Then, the crux, a group of seventeen year old students from Northern Ireland agreed in 1991, ‘Through all of these discussions, one idea was raised that could perhaps be used very well in Northern Ireland.  Integration.  Through full primary and secondary integration, members of both communities could mix from an early age, thus stopping that, ‘mental barrier,’ being created between them.  Perhaps this is where the Government should invest it’s money!’  I found it really interesting that we were all agreed on this a full generation ago.  We were visionaries, seven years before the end of one part of the story, but equally, pointing towards what will come, at some point.

What happened to our group?  Well.  We still haven’t located Kerry Crawford.  One of our friends has cycled across the US with the Velaroos!!!  We are all good friends.  As I am me and I am allowed to do this occasionally, but not in public, I am really proud of everyone!!!  It is hard to believe that I am now in my 20th year of teaching.  I have been involved in inter-community work for 18 years.  This door wouldn’t have opened without the Spirit of Enniskillen Project.



The fire still burns within the bone-fire.

People could exorcise demons, ward of evil spirits and celebrate the coming of a new season.

What burned in the fire was symbolic of the ‘demons’ within and the sense of ‘evil spirits’ beyond.  The fire warned of an impending threat.

How do we deal with the ghosts that were created by those who were sent to an early grave, while those who rattled the bones of the dead, profited on the sacred soil of the departed?

We can’t burn our past in the bone-fire.

We can only pray for a sense of acceptance that embraces everyone.  All traditions.  All choices.  All commemorations.  All bonfires.  All religions.  All races.  All traditions.  All marches.

We need to bury our bones and embrace the possibility of a new society.



Three little words and three steps to heaven.

I absolutely love those three little words.  It was a classic show that I used to watch with my next door neighbour.  I found three little words.


Memory.  Locality.  Love.

The prevailing winds will continue to bend the trees, the leaves will sing and then the song of new life will continuously echo in our hearts.  Again and again and again.

Every second you spend with your best friends will continue to bend the trees, because all of the seconds we live should have an impact.  The footprint we leave will continue to sing.

May was one of my greatest friends and May is the month that I was born.

Memory.  Locality.  Love.


The legacy of the past.

I find this phrase extremely interesting.

We approach 2016 with awe and reverence, but nobody is actually asking the more interesting  question.  Is commemoration necessary?  The legacy of our troubled past assumes that there is something to be bequeathed to the next generation.   Perhaps it was already placed in a safe deposit box for all those who hold the correct combination of prejudice, stereotypical thinking and segregational community separation?

The BBC Northern Ireland resource, Legacy, has just been made available to all teachers in Northern Ireland.  Our family friend, Annie Harkness, gave her heart and soul into being open about her heartbreak on David’s death and her need to at least offer the possibility of forgiveness.  I will always think of her great faith as I cross the bridge beside her house.

The legacy of the peace that we have been gifted with today assumes that some of our politicians will bequeath the correct combination for future generations, a future free of prejudice, stereotypical thinking and one that is fully integrated and accepting.

The legacy of the past assumes we are acting on a vision for the future.  We are bequeathing a legacy that will stand firm.  We are emboldening our children to speak with a new voice.

We our waving goodbye to what once was.  We are saying goodbye to ourselves.  We are unleashing tomorrow.

People of faith. Dial 999.

I am seven years too late or perhaps I am too early.

I have spent my whole life around the concept of ‘revisionism.’  In historical terms, it causes little difficulty.  Instant revision.  Apologies to my readership.  What I meant to say was that it often causes a lot of difficulty.  The past is ever changing in relation to the moment you live and it is reinterpreted according to that last decision you made.

Larry Norman.  We headed out into the snows, travelling sideways and sometimes our momentum drove us forward and then we arrived.  He was amazing.  He played for four hours. We then started the sideways journey back.  I met him once.  That was a disaster.  He may have needed a translator for my ever so slight ‘Norn Iron.’

His songs really reflected the 1960’s and 1970’s and they interpreted the nature of faith and what it meant to believe.  The songs still live.  His understanding of Vietnam and his songs on what Vietnam meant to the US are an extremely important part of the musical archive.  He was an exceptional live performer.  In Northern Ireland terms, he was a saint.  Yip.  Of course we can allow our emotions to build up the wrong person.  That is absolutely clear.  But occasionally, we can allow our sadness to be lifted by the right person.  Optimism.  What little light that may have existed back then was certainly maximised by Larry’s excursions into the heart of Belfast.

He was another voice of the ‘alternative Ulster’ that existed.  Even the compromised vessel may carry a key portion of our understanding.  The ‘human frailty immunity certificate’ doesn’t yet exist.  Occasionally our vision is altered by what we should have noticed earlier.  We just are who we are and we all succeed and fail according to life’s unerring path.

Revisionism will always reinterpret.  It might not always catch the nuances of what occurred.  It might not always capture the fact that the frailty of existence encourages boldness, self-sacrifice and selfishness at the same time.  It certainly won’t capture the importance of faith, a moment that exists between you and the beyond.  It won’t catch the fact that sometimes the faithful are diverted and sometimes the faithful are frail.  It won’t catch your moment of clarity, nor will it capture your moment of doubt.

We live.  We doubt.  We have faith.  We have none.  We are inspired.  We make mistakes.

Life without revision.  Life without alarm.  Life.

Seeking clarity through the many experiments of living.  Always falling and always learning.

Always listening.