Moon Shed to play The Braid Arts Centre. 31.8.13. Randall Stephen Hall & the Moo…

Moon Shed to play The Braid Arts Centre. 31.8.13. Randall Stephen Hall & the Moon Shed will play the Braid on Saturday the 31st of August 2013. 8.00 p.m. Plus some fine folk musicians alongside too. (Cracker stuff).
Stephen describes the eclectic mix of music he writes as “Folk n’ Fusion”. A mixture of Irish Traditional, Rough Ulster Scots, Americana, some North Antrim funk and a wee dab of humour.
(Rough Ulster Scots as in, a rough tweed, the rough rock of the landscape, A field of stubble, the broad and hamely tongue. Wi words as rough as heavy duty sand paper on a wire metal brush. Do you ketch ma drift hey?).
The band are Stephen Hall/Mandolin/Guitar and Kenyan hand drum, Rohan Young/Bodhrán and craic and the bold Michael Sands/Banjo/Guitar, the wit-Meister himself.
All in all their informal approach and serious musicality bring a new flavour to the local folk scene, along with Stephen’s “random” poems. Never predictable. He may have a few new ones in the barrel frae Saturday nicht. Ah now . . .


Citizen Ship Belfast 2013. Nos 31. Without wind a flag is a sorry thing. He…

Citizen Ship Belfast 2013. Nos 31.
Without wind a flag is a sorry thing.

Here’s a wee poem influenced by what I have been seeing lately in our streets. I am no lover of bonfires, flag waving, violent street protest or lazy thinking. Self expression, well formed ideas, positive thoughts for society however, I hold dear. Without these things we are lost.

Without Wind a Flag is a Sorry Thing.

Without wind
A flag is a sorry thing.
Without some big blow
A flag has no life.
This battered wife
Caught by plastic ties
Gripped by lies.
A woman, flapping to escape.

Trapped like some wee
Abandoned fighting dog.
Frightened, beaten and abused.
Barking amongst the silent remains
Of our scrap yard.
This is Northern Ireland.

Your street and my street
Weeps colours from the sky.
All because someone else
Wants their finger
In your pie.

These limp leaden flags
Like redundant lungs,
Cough up the phlegm
Of our leaders, long dead.

The streets shake their death rattle
Like some silent collection.
While we say nothing.
Keeping our heads down.
An incomplete nation, heads bowed.
Praying their lives away
To some hard idol called fear.

To still be doing
What our leaders said
One hundred years on.
Like one trick ponies.
Come on . . . come on . . .
Catch yourselves on, boys.
Are you just a bit too blonde?

Shake yourselves up
Out of these dark slumbers
Like the men of Ulster
You are.

Did all those big bombs
Turn your head now?
For what are you needing this?
Like piss against the wind
And tears all down
Your wet wee legs.
For you were just a child
When you picked up
The scraps of these dregs.
These dis-beliefs.

To believe in this?
To only believe in this?
Is this all you have?
I am saddened by your loss.

My heart is numb.
I have no fear or feeling.
No regard, for your flutterings.
For the scrap metal of your thoughts.
For your scrap yard dogs,
Your scrap yard things.

But you have my pity.
My shred of love,
And my sympathy.
For some amongst you.
You and your lost tribe
Of Israelites,
Would rather you remained
Barking and in chains.

Like guard dogs
Chewing on their madness.
Minting the shekel.
Squeezing your tears,
The washing of all your fears
Through their mangle.

And nothing will ever change
Down your street and my street,
Until you scrap
Their twisted workings.
Let loose their dogs
And shut the doors
Of this scrap yard
For good, for once,
And for all.

Citizen Ship Belfast 2013. Nos 31.
By Randall Stephen Hall ©


Citizen Ship Belfast 2013. Nos 30. To be seen and to be heard. As we approa…

Citizen Ship Belfast 2013. Nos 30.
To be seen and to be heard.

As we approach the big day, the 12th of July 2013, I’m hoping there won’t be riots in Ardoyne. That people may live and let live, though, going by previous year’s violence and mayhem, I will be surprised if there isn’t some trouble. But, let’s stay positive for the time being.

I still remember many engaging things about “the Twelfth” as a child, through a child’s eyes. I especially liked the music. The thump, the rattle and the crack of the drums. The spectacle and the colour. All of the banners and images, held high, most of which I had no understanding of. The symbolism, lost on me.

Friends waving to and from the crowd. Friendly banter. “Hey big lad! Where’s your Pac-a-Mac?” Ordinary people having a day off, taking a break from the ordinary rhythms of life. To feel, bigger, and more important, if only for a day. To be seen and to be heard for just a few hours must have made, must still make it, this experience, quite an intense thing indeed.

“To be seen and to be heard”. A key element, within an industrialized urban culture. Missing in the lives of most people in Northern Ireland, for we have been merely the passive consumers of our leaders ideas and agendas, be it politics, religion, education or plain hatred, which we have absorbed over hundreds of years, like toxic fast food. The result of which, at the other end of the process, should be quite obvious. We produce, runny, imperfect “shit”. The indication that something is terribly wrong within us.

If we were a mere dog, we would be off to the vet where a change of diet would be put into action immediately. But instead we eat “shit” ideas, fast food, alcohol, and drugs. Disregard exercise and let our doctors pump us full of anti-depressants to stem the tide of our pain, instead of looking at where it’s coming from. To go find the source and take it on, directly.

*I’m using the word “shit” here because I believe in “calling a spade a spade”.

I understand, how marching in a band makes you feel good. Not “The Hun”, “the Oppressor”, “the Bigot” or “The Enemy”. Just People. Individuals with families, relations, children, with hopes and dreams. Everyone there, with the capacity to love and be loved.

The emotions of the day. The sense of family. A feeling of belonging, in the sun, out in the air, with your head up, looking well, rather than in a factory, in any job, reined in, with your head down, knowing your place. A common experience, between “the Orange” and “the Green”. We share the same pain.

We all once knew our place. We once kept our heads down. That aristocratic, industrial hierarchy is all but dismantled. Passed away now. But the thing that remains, that still wants to keep our heads down is the fear itself, and the small number, in the shadows, down our streets, still tied to the old ways, unable and unprepared to change.

I was 11 in 1969. Then, sadly, the sickness came upon our streets, or at least, the sickness in our minds, evolved into extreme acts of violence, right throughout our community. Neighbour hating neighbour. Neighbour hurting neighbour. Neighbour killing neighbour, all because of the sickness in our heads. All because we believed the lies that we were fed by the gatekeepers, the leaders and the elders within our divided tribes.

Spoon fed hatred, fear and paranoia. Lies of division. Distorted political ideals, on both sides, marching us off down the road into the shadows and tunnels of conflict from which we are only slowly emerging now, evolving like the pupa of some transformational creature. The many legged marching orange and/or green caterpillars. These weaving lodges on our narrow streets, like the upraised branches of a tree, looking for the next stage. Searching for a way forward. How to change without losing out, without losing face, without backing down? Without losing your manliness, in public?

The shame of it. (Wise up big lad!) Catch yourselves on.

That’s a tough one for men, to lose face, who still believe in the likes of John Wayne, Steven Segal (Under Siege) and every action hero over the past sixty years. (Never mind the one dimensional heros from computer games.)

Northern Ireland. The highest consumer of anti-depressants in Europe.

It is the morning of the 12th of July 2013. What will have happened by the end of today? Will reason have prevailed? We are all so primed to fail. Our self esteem is so low. Yet within our imagination and our children’s imaginations, there exits the pupa, the caterpillar and . . . the butterfly of change.

Waiting to be seen and be heard.

Citizen Ship Belfast 2013. Nos 30.
By Randall Stephen Hall ©


Citizen Ship Belfast 2013. Nos 29. Here's a musical poem called "The Lang Stai…

Citizen Ship Belfast 2013. Nos 29.
Here’s a musical poem called “The Lang Staine”.

It’s narrated by a character of my own invention called “Hugh Midden”. A North Antrim Tribesman. Tall, long faced, cap, unshaven grey beard, rollie cigarette, subtle ear ring. Patched tweed jacket. Gorse for hair. Tall overalls (from the Artificial Insemination work). Deeply cynical about politics and the more negative aspects of human nature. With a wry grin at times.

Oh yes, and dark glasses. (to cut the glare from off the whitewashed buildings). You know the kind of thing I mean . . . . . Dignified, Real and Grounded.

He has his own opinion on flags.

Hugh has three tattoos. One on either forearm. On his left forearm it reads “Don’t you get it?”. On his right forearm it reads . . . “Didn’t you get it the first time?”. With one tattoo over his heart which reads “God is Love. I Pay by Direct Debit.”

It goes, without saying, that there are strong chunks of Ulster Scots in this piece of writing, due to the influences of the Robinson/Ferguson side of my family, from Coleraine, Boghill, Ballymoney and Kilraughts, Co. Antrim. All Presbyterians, as far as I know. Hence, the cut of Hugh Midden’s jib.

The Lang Staine.

The Lang Staine.
Lang stoney face.
Lang gang oot o’ yon place.
King James, o’ he aw the Scots.
Let us bide a while.
Then sent us oor the golden mile,
The Causey stones, the robber’s way.
Finn, the bigger, lep, an biggit a bridge.
So here we danced and came to stay.

The Lang Staine.
Lang stoney face.
Still standin’, still.
Though all of us displaced off dale and hill.
Where to go to feed the chuckies.
Where to stand, our boots are muckie.
All set to farmin’ in the fields,
Or in the hills, Black Nebs named, nae yield.
Poor auld buggers, still set on the game.
The game to just survive.

The Lang staine.
Lang stoney face.
Learn to plough
And learn to sew.
Robbin’ less we built our homes.
A barn, a tower, a wall, a fence.
A ditch, a shield, all set for defence.

Few of us have leaders now.
All a one and nae tae bow.
Individual folk we be.
Nare used to ere’ bend the knee.
Nare to worship any throne.
Sept’ fer Yin. To Him alone.
We look to Him
Nae bag or car.
Nae riches need,
But who we are.

For all our riches are at home.
The wife and babies
And friendship’s song.
To sing and play the jig and reel.
A warm, warm place.
A muckle creel.

So many came as exiles
So many came in chains.
Nae boddie will ever harness us.
We don’t work well in lang reins.
We’ll plough the ground and work for you.
We’ll work both night and day.
For all we ever seek from you
Is a fair day’s work, for a fair day’s pay.

But never think we worship you
For our calling is much deeper.
It flows down through our bedrock
As we wake or as a sleeper.
Nae politician, king or man
Will lead us all like donkeys.
This guff just has no meanin’ boy
And me ? . . .
I could’nae give a monkey’s.
This lang, lang staine.
Still standin’ still,
Throws nae saddle shadow oor me.
It marks the sun, the moon and stars.
This means that I am free.

So culture vultures, listen long.
Listen lang and hard.
An Ulster Scot’s a hybrid,
Nae dull auld lump o’ lard.

A shiney, shiney dappled thing.
A mongrel, through and through.
It is our deep held strength you know.
Where there’s brass, there’s always poo.
So bridle up yer dull auld gaze
And lead it up the roddens.
I am proud of who I am.
A mix of pins and bobbins.

Not one flag will do me.
You can throw them in the bin.
Not one party show me,
Could get me ere to swim.

I’ll keep my feet on dry, dry land.
I’ll stand by this here staine.
It was raised, lang, lang before me.
And by the lang staine, I will remain.

Cheerio now . . .

The end.

Citizen Ship Belfast 2013. Nos 29.
By Randall Stephen Hall ©


Citizen Ship Belfast 2013. Nos. 28. One man’s field is another man’s prison….

Citizen Ship Belfast 2013. Nos. 28.
One man’s field is another man’s prison.

My father died from heart complications, at the age of 52 in Belfast, 1981. He was an architect and a Civil Servant. He was born in Milford, Co. Donegal, a distant field. His father was born in Newry, another field. His father, my great grandfather, was born in Canada in 1864, some fields and a big river away. His father, my great, great grandfather was born in West Meath around 1828. He joined a British Irish regiment, lived in Canada for ten years, then settled in Kilkenny from 1870 on . . . So which field, based on my family’s male line, should I choose to call my own?

Is there only one field or can I choose to seek out other fields beyond the tight restricting boundaries of that one field? This poem is my answer, along with this family collage for, in a way, our ancestors are always with us . . . RSH 8.7.13

The Gate in the Field.

I wandered across the fields that day.
Until I came to what I thought was my own gate.
Two stout Ulster pillars.
White, washed and phallic.
Standing before me and yet
Through the gate, on the other side
In the middle of the field
Stood people I recognised.
My grandparents.

Four people, two couples.
Talking with my father.
Past on, these twenty seven years.
Laughing now with Eva, Etta, Alec and Agnes.
Relations all, fresh across the soil to join him.
And though I thought this impossible
I didn’t question reunion’s gift.

“There’s your next gate” they indicated with a smile.
My father gave me a big hug.
A warm embrace, so long needed.
Then let me go, his last Dandy-Lion seed.
To float and grow a little more.
My seed head spinning out in the breeze.
The next gate had no posts.
But hung off two trees.
It rested and beckoned me cross.
To move through time.
I clambered over
And there, on the other side
Was a small crowd of people.
My cold narrow field
Emerged through the morning mist.
Hazy, sun kissed, flowered and green.
Abundant with the seed of my ancestors.

For here they were.
Gathered all, before me.
My narrow field.
Narrow, almost boxed in my lifetime
Grew broad.
Broader beyond belief
By seeing their existence.

Through seven fields I walked that day.
Recognising faces I had never known.
For in them I saw my own face.
Clasping the hands of those
Who knew not the custom.
Yet amongst them I stood.

In the late afternoon
I reached the eighth field
Their faces changing all the time to a darker hue.
The colour of their skin, the colour of their eyes.
Darkening as the sun sat lower in the sky.
Darkening, my ancestors.

By now the field was so big
It seemed to have no boundaries.
And my white, freckled, palette
Seemed an improbable canvas.
I felt a mere daub, a wee squirt
Swimming from their ancientness.

Their colours washing over me.
These dark smiling faces
Encircling me with their love.
People welcoming me.
Hugging me as my father had.

I knew I was home now.
For this was my field
My only field.
A field without walls.

“The Gate in the Field.”
By Randall Stephen Hall. © 7.7.06 – 23.8.07
First performed at Glencree 2007.
Citizen Ship Belfast 2013. Nos 28.


Citizen Ship Belfast 2013. Nos 27. Sid Virens 365. A Short Story. I know…

Citizen Ship Belfast 2013. Nos 27. Sid Virens 365. A Short

I know this guy called “Sid Virens”. Sounds Scandinavian, or maybe he’s a Hugenot. Now Sid, still runs a wee hardware store up on the Antrim Plateau. It’s been there since at least 1857. People, like my Granny Ferguson, used to refer to Sid as “The Boy”, yet he seemed so old and wise in his brown overalls. In his shop you could buy a particular kind of oil lamp, for any dark night of the year, for you see, it would never run out of the magic fluid that kept the lamp burning so clearly.

Anyone could buy one of Sid’s lamps. It didn’t matter who you were, which foot you hurpled with or which side you wore your cap. If he had one, big or small, then he would leave, one on the counter, just for you, with a free box of Sid’s matches, for he was the man to ignite any flame in the area, especially in your heart.

The light above Sid’s shop burned 365 days of the year. He always seemed to be open and his laugh rattled like an auld donkey kickin’ a galvanised bucket, and that’s the truth now.

He was a great man for whittlin’ wood and one day he had an idea.

He collected up a bunch of scrap wood (even pallets), and over time he built himself a gigantic lamb, in the local car park, (with permission of course from the local council), and on the thirteenth of July, in the evening, he decorated it, both inside and out with some of his magical lanterns. What a sight it was. How strange and new. People had never seen anything like this before, especially in July (never mind August).

There were of course, people who protested about this and called him a nutter. Some even threatened him, with a mob outside number 365, the High Street. So the local council met and the Lamb, after some depate, was given the thumbs up. Thirteen votes to Eleven. A close call, but the sense of the majority prevailed.

Outside Sid waited with his supporters and his detractors.
“There’s Love for you.” he mused. “Where’s the Love in a bonfire?”.

“I think I’ll make a pig next year. Oink!”, he quietly thought to himself. Or maybe an old goat, or a duck, or a chicken, an elephant, or maybe my wife’s mother! Now there’s a scarey thought” he chuckled.

Some of the local people, all neighbours to each other, of every persuasion, gathered to admire the wonderful spectacle. Food and drink was shared around the lamb and the lights.

A family of friends, all together, and not for the first time either. Old habits die hard (Ain’t that the truth hey.)

Then a very old man piped up . . . “Hey Boy! Do you remember when we used to burn bonfires? I miss smashin’ things. What use is a Lamb Lamp anyway?”. “Aye. Catch yerself on, ye auld ejit!”, replied his equally ancient wife, “That was then and this is now. Fancy another beer and a sausage roll?”

The old man paused and looked at the lamb with a certain discomfort. But something came over him, like a flame of old rage, hurt and the deepest of regrets. Up from the darkest sadness. For it would be easy just to burn the Lamb, or any bonfire. Beat it into the ground. Easy, to burn the effigy of your enemy, and his colours, but in the morning there would only be ashes and your enemy would still be your enemy.

Then the old man asked . . . “Where’s that beer, Maisy. And where’s the crack? I could do with a real holiday . . .”

Sid Virens. Still open, 365 days of the year.

P.S. This wee story was based on the motto of the Presbyterian Church, “Ardens Sed Virens”. Burning, ever renewing. A strong memory from my childhood and adolescence. These words, always present, along with a love of gospel music and the belief in something greater than myself . . .

P.P.S. . Lasse Virén was a well known Olympic long distance runner. Winning four gold medals at the 1972 and 1976 Summer Olympics.


Citizen Ship Belfast 2013. Nos 26. Are you just waiting for change like a carry…

Citizen Ship Belfast 2013. Nos 26.
Are you just waiting for change like a carry out?

So long as things aren’t too bad here we sit and wait for good things to happen. With regard to the flag situation in Belfast, it’s so obvious that we need something new, to show who we are, our leaders are fully transfixed with fear. No one is brave or imaginative enough to take the first step, mouth the first syllable, make the first effective decision, as both sides are the same two wheels of an auld cart. Stuck in a rut, unable to change or move in a new and positive direction.

An over simplification, but you know what I mean . . .

Jobs for the boys, status quo maintenance, complacency, political obesity, sniffing up the power off a table, yet not coming up with the goods for the citizen when it comes to peaceful progress in the world of flags.

The banjo plays a lonely tune in the alleyways, beneath the lamp posts of Belfast. In the long awaited sunshine our necks seem to be getting fatter and redder. “Welcome to Banjo Country”, could be our new tourism headline.

Sadly the fear of the bogey man persists to keep us stuck, doing things, which in any other country, would seem backward, slow, ineffective and just plain “DUH?” big lad.

We burn plastic, metal, rubber and huge quantities of pallets, yearly, which must contravene our local environmental laws. We say we are encouraging peace, yet most of us live in political, social and mental ghettoes, consuming too many anti-depressants, watching ever bigger televisions with body shapes, cars and egos to match.

“It’s part of my culture . . .” Which part? . . .”The plastic.”

Like it or not, we are not as free as we think we are, nor as democratic, liberal or forward thinking. If I went out into my garden and set fire to the kind of stuff that will be burned this summer, by both sections of our community, the fire brigade would be round in minutes, because I’m not a threat to anyone in a uniform.

They say there is one law for the rich and one law for the poor. In this case it seems to be the other way around.

The debate over flags continues, yet no one seems compassionate enough, inspired, engaged, or committed enough to involve our collective local imagination, to come up with some far reaching solution for us all. For everyone here. Could that actually be possible?

Traditionally our wee province has produced an amazing array of inventors and creative people. The need is so great to move forward now, it feels like reporting from a “new flag” famine in a dried out Lough Neagh. The skulls and bones of long dead concepts like the “British Empire” and “Aggressive Irish Nationalism” lie about us.

When will our society be irrigated with the flowing waters of imaginative new emblems, symbols and “free expression without the fear of violence”, which reflects the positive changes in our society, amongst the majority of our law abiding citizens?

When I next head out for a carry out, I don’t expect to find a new flag amongst my sausage supper and onion rings. The situation at the city hall in Belfast resembles more, a gravy chip in a greasy brown paper bag. You’ve had it all before and the next day all you will do is pass wind . . .

The Waiting.
By Randall Stephen Hall. 21.7.11©

You rarely see a cow
Opening a gate on its own.
They generally stand and wait

You rarely see hospital patients
Operating on themselves.
They wait too.

We wait in queues.
We choose, we are conditioned
To wait.
For buses, taxis, planes and meals on wheels.

For babies, birthdays
Christmas, holidays.
For friends to arrive.
We wait to live.
We wait to breath.

We learn to wait
With our parents.
They hold our hands
And show us how.

We grow to wait.
Like the great and the good, the un-washed.
We tumble, tongue and chew our cud.
Standing by, in our own rude fields.

Gawping, we cogitate.
We wait and wait.
Cow like, we lick, flick
Then shake the flies off our backs.

While the movers and shakers
Make the earth rattle like a piggy bank.
Go about their business like a tank.
All barrel and tracks, they attack.

But can there only be so many
To move and to shake?
While the cows, the sheep
And the odd docile goat
Choke the plains of the earth
With their red remotes?

We stand like a field of flowers.
Daisy chained, grounded with one breath.
Waiting for the storm.
To trample on our roots.

One more step in the procession.
To be processed.
To quiver at the slaughter.
To finally move and to shake.

There was a time
When I didn’t think about waiting.

But waiting in a dull hospital room.
All telly visioned into submission.
Doped up, with the others from my herd.
Waiting suddenly seemed like a chore.

I don’t want to wait anymore.

Citizen Ship Belfast 2013. Nos 26.
By Randall Stephen Hall ©


Citizen Ship Belfast 2013. Nos 25. Railing against our words of hate. Prod….

Citizen Ship Belfast 2013. Nos 25.
Railing against our words of hate.

By Randall Stephen Hall. 5.6.13 ©

I think it’s about time
We allowed ourselves
To come from here.
From Ireland.

That’s just a label.
Irish Prod, is just another.
Undercover Brit.
Such hate, such hate.
It bites, it bit me, it bates.

It still bites, deeply.
It shakes, insults and rattles me.
The sad end of my funny bone.
An empty shaker, with no sound.

What’s a Taig?
What’s a Catholic?
Automatic Irish?
Saint Patrick’s patriot robots?
Crossing, lifting the water,
Counting beads, tying knots?
Killing for the cause,
The fox in the bushes.
A little place just outside

Where’s the bread of forgiveness?
Cut me off a slice.
Blown apart and spread around.
This love.

Shove a buttered piece of it
Into my hands.
It’s my land too.
For where is my land
If not here?
For only you?

Jewish people
Have a word for it.
The outsider, the other
The down there.
The not as good as.
As good as us.
Go on, catch the bus . . .

Prod is as Goy
As it gets.
To me, Prod has
All the dull, inaccurate
Metallic impact
And imprisonment,
Of a street drain cover,
Imbedded in cobble stones.

It lets you look in.
You can see and hear
That there is something there.
But you will never connect
With such rubbish
As a Prod, a Goy.

The Prod and the Goy
Are one and the same.
To the Irish,
Those good Catholic Irish
Who like to use this name
Amongst their own.

Prod . . . the avoidance
Of seeing humanity in the eyes
Of your enemy.
Am I still your enemy?
Am I still only your Prod?
Your Goy?

Such simple labels,
Definitions, tickets
To the lazy turnstiles
Of division.
Which team are you on?

We rush in to see the game
With our family and friends,
Our mates.
The same bacon on narrow plates.
Only to end up
At one end or the other
Like pigs,
Smothered in the shit
And the branding, the pride
And all the illusions of belonging.

The Prod, the Goy and the Taig.
Each, its own dumb thump
To the brain.
Dull, dumb cracker
To the skull, the intelligence.

Moronic and short of words.
Short of something that would
Feed us.
Nurture this unlit flame.
Re-kindle the kindling.
Still damp from all our tears
Of un-belonging.

Prod, Goy, Taig.
Chink, Wop, Spic.
Kike, Brit, Nigger.
Black, Boy, Lundy, Tout.
Check these words out.

Dead prayers of hate.
Tied to a living wonder tree.
Engulfed by the fresh ash
Of an angry volcano.

All the same words.
The un-doing of the other.
Different shaped railings
Designed and fixed.
To keep us out,
Keep us down,
And keep us apart.

By Randall Stephen Hall ©
Citizen Ship Belfast 2013. Nos 25.


Citizen Ship Belfast 2013. Nos 24. Peace Blocked by Gate Keepers. The Flag…

Citizen Ship Belfast 2013. Nos 24.

Peace Blocked by Gate Keepers.

The Flag Issue rolls on as we build bonfires to celebrate “the twelfth”. For those of you who don’t know what this folk festival is, go check out “the twelfth of July/Northern Ireland” on Wikipedia. I’m sure it will fill in the blanks for you.

In some of my previous articles I have suggested that while some of the working classes openly rioted, fought, looted, murdered, lied, discriminated and beat anything that moved, during the more violent period of the Troubles, there were those in the middle classes who honkered down, to be involved, from the shadows of a desk job, a clerical job, a teaching job, as a priest, a minister, politician, councillor or professional.

These people could be found in all walks of life throughout the island of Ireland and Britain. It didn’t matter what Christian denomination they were from. The darker, furtive, more secretive side of human nature at work, and what work they most surely did, as we were distracted, watching working class protestors on the streets, doing what some do well to this day, destroying things. (Now, that’s an exaggeration. I’m only talking about minorities, amongst our, still divided community. If everyone did that, we would just be living amongst smouldering rubble).

If there was ever an Olympic event called “The Riot” we could win the gold medal.

However, with the stroke of a pen, a misplaced file, ensuring that a building application wasn’t passed, or money diverted from some community organisation, blocking particular promotions, ensuring lack of support for a worthy colleague or spreading their vile ideas beyond their own heads, while on the surface, seeming to be respectable, employed and helpful, these people may have caused as much destruction to the fabric of our society, our northern community culture, more effectively, than any physical destruction or violence.

My next poem is dedicated to all those people, most of whom, have either died or are well on their way to the reckoning, upstairs, with management, when they have to account for their slippery, dark and damaging work, throughout the forty years of violence. They know who they are and I hope they feel satisfied with their pile of spiked hopes, rejected ideas and hidden projects, still waiting for the go ahead. This is the kind of diverted positive thinking that brought us to the Troubles in the first place. Allowing our darker thoughts to rain down upon this wee place for far, far too long.

This poem is for all the Gate Keepers. Every last one of them. Sadly, a new generation of gate keepers will always be with us. They are one step down from the rat, the blue bottle and the maggot. They too, work in the shadows, never in the light, or out in the open, for their work cannot exist in the light. It relies on secrets, lies, ambition, greed and closeted hatred. In a suit, in a bank, an office, a church, a manse, a school or a business.

You see, the middle classes, have fooled them selves into thinking that they were, somehow, on the sidelines of this conflict, when in fact they were the very filament in the bulb of our consciousness, that carried the current of the troubles to and fro, throughout the whole conflict.

For instance, they ran the media, the newspapers, staffed all the programmes and shaped opinion, on both sides of the community. They edited every image we saw, every article written, created every interview. They framed the Troubles for us, at least, they framed what we were allowed to see of the Troubles.

For what did we not see? What ideas didn’t reach us via the papers? Whose voices were rarely, if every heard? The answer might be, the majority of the ordinary people, going about their business, taking part in our shared society, as citizens, but not actually harming anyone at all.

This quiet voice of the majority, has rarely been heard, throughout the history of the Troubles, due to these “gate keepers” spread throughout our society like bad seeds.

In different ways, big or small, we too have all been gate keepers to letting peace evolve or not evolve here in Northern Ireland.

The Gate Keeper.
By Randall Stephen Hall. © 21.7.11
(Sometimes narrated by J. Sniggly-Woodbine (gate-keeper).

I am the gate keeper.
I sit by my gate.
I sit and I wait
And I wait and I wait.

I sit and I wait
For the likes of young you.
I’ll play with your head
For I’m blocking you.

My one raison d’étre
Is to sit by my gate.
I sit and I wait
And I wait and I wait.

For the fit and the talented.
The young and the strong.
For they have no power.
They just don’t belong.

The young and naive
Are a danger to power.
So they can stand in my queue
And just wait their hour.

For I was young once, you see.
Oh, it’s a long time ago.
I too was naive
When my talents did show.

But they gave me this gate
And the stuff that came with it.
I’ve forgotten my reason
For this dark position.

I’m jealous of those
Who come by, up here.
It’s great when I snag them
On some auld bum steer.

Though I wish, I was young again
With a reason to be.
A man with a plan
And a girl on each knee.

For the gate has destroyed me.
It’s rusted and broken
It’s just like my jaw
On a hinge, rarely opened.

One day they’ll replace me
With some young buck soon.
Then all I will do
Is go bay at the moon.

The fate of old keepers
Is a pension and bones.
To wait and decay
In my house all alone.

With the power and the wealth
All emptiness rings.
My bell has no clapper
And my heart rarely sings.

Like a guard dog I’ve been
Mean to many and man.
I am the gate keeper.
Pass me if you can.

By Randall Stephen Hall©
Citizen Ship Belfast 2013. Nos 24.


Citizen Ship Belfast 2013. Nos 23. Belfast City Hall, merely a symbol of Brit…

Citizen Ship Belfast 2013. Nos 23.

Belfast City Hall, merely a symbol of British culture?

I happened to be up in Belfast, just last Sunday with a few messages to do. My walk took me from the Cathedral Quarter, through the quiet streets, as far as the City Hall. Something made me cross the road to go take a look at the symbols, the statues, the emblems and the architecture. Often accused by Republicans, of being very, imperialistic, colonial and only a space (until recently) to be British in, the city hall sits amongst us. Does that accusation ring true today?

I’m not so sure that it does, for if we analysed the architecture and removed the Greek, Roman, Egyptian and European architectural influences, what would we be left with that is essentially British? Very little, and certainly nothing that could be described as especially original or local to Belfast or the culture of Belfast.

The elements of this kind of architecture could be found in Rome, in Paris, in America, in Washington, in Berlin and many other European cities. So in some ways the accusation of absolute British symbolism at our Belfast City Hall is quite possibly mistaken, missing the point, that there is nothing original or essentially British about the plaques, the statues, the shapes and style, but only their subject matter. Only the content and meaning of who the statues represent, shapes our view of the City Hall as being a visual “Brit-Fest”.

This narrow level of art and architecture appears all over the world and represents a particular time, along with our present flags, whether they are American, German, Greek, Irish or British. If you were living in a newly unified political state, post 1860, you had to “whip up” a new flag. Invent, fabricate, manufacture, a new image for that age and that time. So in that sense, all these modern flags, along with African flags, could be brought together as a whole, as they are saying the same thing: “This is us. The new brand, building on the old.” Though none of these flags were ever chosen through consensus.

The lack of democratic consensus is a common factor throughout all these flag designs, including the British flag, but more importantly, the Irish flag. Who gave birth to its tri-colour design and who removed the “orange” through the mere use of language?

Did you know that the colour of the original flag associated with Ireland was a dark blue, through its association with Saint Patrick?

In administrative terms, during the Victorian era, in Manchester, Liverpool, London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, most American cities, Canada, South Africa, Scandinavia, Italy, Germany, Spain, and almost everywhere else, this basic style was in vogue. The visual styling that shaped our city hall. Greek and Romanesque, columns, cupolas, domes and marble statues dominated the horizons of local government. Even Dublin is no different today.

I think what the SDLP and Sinn Fein have failed to really notice is that the City Hall isn’t really celebrating Britishness. The main thing, by far, that the City Hall is celebrating is industrial and commercial success.

If a tricolour flew over the city hall in Belfast, tomorrow, with the union flag and the flag of the European Parliament, what would have changed? Would our means of governance have changed? No. Would our constitution have changed? No. Would our laws have changed? No? Our Rights? Our national flag? No.

Nothing would have changed, other than the recognition of something beyond party politics.

Only changes of perception would have occurred in our minds. It would just be another national flag, flying over another dome, pillars and set of statues, in another European City.

It is only through feeling secure within ourselves that we will ever be able to fly these three flags over our city hall, in Belfast. It is therefore the challenge to Sinn Féin and the SDLP to help make us all feel less jittery, about flags in general, by acting with more maturity and far sighted generosity, in future.

After a while, all these images of empire/or nation, (British or Irish), start to look the same. Yes, we are told that these symbols mean something, but what do they actually mean? They are symbols of power and control. They are placed there to remind us who is in charge, for it certainly isn’t us. These symbols are just a means to an end. They provide a visual backdrop, to the political construct, we are told is democracy. Other than telling us who is boss, all these symbols do is provide the visual trappings of power and an imagined sense of continuity.

Therefore, to be so touchy about a flag is to miss the point. Who is in charge? If there is no debate in the matter, then why did the riots occur? The answer, no doubt, can be found elsewhere.

By Randall Stephen Hall ©
Citizen Ship Belfast 2013. Nos 23.