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, scripture shared

but rarely was a vulnerable heart 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.”


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