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;

repeated cliches too well-known:

the Quaker silence we disowned.


‘Sacred Songs’  sung as best able,

bap bun  on ‘worldly’ card table:

the beaded-doily covered sherry glass

rang bell-like, echoed frowned-on Mass.


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.

We sang unaccompanied and shared

scripture – rarely were nude hearts bared.


Sometimes scripture was properly set alight,

our ‘Upper Room” filled with holy might,

sometimes, even I, plain prayer would utter;

sheer nervous intensity caused my stutter.


In the summer zealous “youth teams” came –

Northern adolescents making strident claims;

uncompromising accents in small-town squares,

shouting “dear sinner-friend”, ignoring any stares.


‘Authorised’ black Bibles, undiplomatic tracts

presented the truth – the foursquare facts;

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

they never quite exploded “Romish lies”.

What did their “prayer letters” report?

What did local “unsaved” sinners retort?


Protestant plain, we were seen as a sect,

From small-minded locals, what did I expect?

Nick-named “white mice” by local people

dominated by Romanesque-style steeple.


Our non-conformist views gave offence;

we even made the “C of I” parish tense.

The hymns we droned failed to inspire:

no roaring trade winds, no tongues of fire.

Even the holy bun finished up with hens!

But I still believe – more than back then.


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.

Tabula Rasa


Did unwanted visitor carry viral curse?

Unborn baby wrestled, now in need of nurse.


Scan-monitor stated heart-beat missing:

unrequited, fond tummy hugs and kissing.


Soon her faecal-tinted tide dam-broke,

no newborn wail, deathly silence spoke.


Tabula Rasa* – mouth mute, empty her gaze,

baby body floppy – little for poet to praise…


Little girl gone, gone – listless limbs held,

pointless heart-plead, dumb tears welled.


Unsure guarantee: harsh natured womb,

daffodil scent, death’s unhappy perfume.


Petal-peeled her flesh, just womb souvenir;

tentative my embrace, many paternal tears.


My lips didn’t linger, porcelain-cold her cheeks;

what empty words can this poet now speak?


We stoic parents sobbed, pained our prayer;

no nappy changes,  her funeral to prepare.


Cruel joker smirked again, that April first –

Easter-empty tomb defiant, death reversed.


God not mocked, feeble faith rebounded,

young sibling spoke hope, parents astounded…


*Tabula rasa (Latin: “scraped tablet”, though often translated “blank slate”) is the notion that individual human beings are born “blank” (with no built-in mental content), and that their identity is defined entirely by events after birth.

My stillborn girl, Holly, was born April 1st. She was buried on Easter Monday, five days later.

illustration by Neringa Normantaite https://www.facebook.com/artistneringa/