Gospel Hall Brethren


We were the faithful, we were true:

we never knelt or sat in pews,

all seated in a circle broken,

long prayers in Ulster accents spoken;

repeating cliches too well-known:

the Quaker silence we disowned.


Uncertain acapella, robust belief aired,

then some cliche scripture portion shared,

the sermons droned failed to inspire:

tamped down tight any tongues of fire.


Oh! The lisp of India-paper pages,

we were the Brethren, scriptural sages,

all the ladies’ heads were covered,

all the children’s giggles smothered.

Sometimes even I, a prayer would utter;

sheer spiritual intensity caused my stutter.


In summer the ardent adolescents came –

Northern dialects made strident claims;

unshakeable statements in small-town squares,

shouting out salvation, blind to shocked stares.


Black their bibles, blunt their crass tracts,

dire truth told, fundamentalist facts;

most ill-at-ease under these “grey skies”,

they never quite exploded “Papist lies”.

What did “prayer letters” home report?

With what sneers did rural “sinners” retort?


Mountmellick misfits, dire our disconnect,

socially segregated – an insipid sect?

much missionary effort but what the cost,

meagre heaven’s harvest and little love lost…


NOTE: “Grey skies” is part of Paisley’s dictum: “We shall not exchange the blue skies of Ulster for the grey skies of the Republic.”



She vice grips her hero-husband’s hand,

heaving hormones issue high demands,

pity cannot calm deep contraction pain,

birth-waters gush, sheet shows graffiti stain:

primitive her pant, newborn stirs within,

propelled the push – let baby’s birth begin!

Lar birth

Thighs hinge, tendons rack-stretched,

ejection-effort on her red face etched;

the father’s futile fears, hopeless his tears,

abruptly a damp, dark-haired head appears:

shocked arrival – open one sceptical eye,

instinctive suckle soon silenced primal cries.

Fetal Heart-beat Missing


Scan screen abstractly stated fetal heart-beat missing:

terminated tummy hugs, finished all sibling kissing.

Ten tenuous days wait, faecal-tinted waters broke,

in an isolated delivery room deathly silence spoke.

Mute cry shaped mouth, eyes showed vacant gaze,

face flattened, body floppy –  little for poet to praise.

Cooling listless limbs warmly maternal held,

pointless any prayerful pleading, only dumb tears welled.

Paternal lips didn’t linger long on fridge-frozen cheeks;

the dead cannot feel kisses, or hear what we speak.

Stoic parents sobbed, pointless now any prayer;

no nappy changes needed, a funeral to prepare.

God is not mocked, feeble faith soon rebounded:

her sibling spoke ascension hope, both parents astounded…


Holly died in the womb March 21, 1993 and was stillborn April 1st.

illustration by Neringa Normantaite https://www.instagram.com/nn_design_and_illustration/