Month: August 2016


The sun was shining and that was good. Summer had gone and autumn, all too brief, was ending. The train slipped out of Botanic and I prepared to return to the place I had once called home.

I walked from the platform to the seafront. The beach had gone. A field of boulders held the tide at bay. They called to me and I climbed up, tempted to run along them all the way to Marino. The rocks had given me peace once; crawling, jumping, slipping, falling. The pain had been delicious; the bruises, the scrapes, the scars, the leathered hands, proof that I would endure. From Marino, I had made it to Cultra and from there to Helen’s Bay. Come the spring, I shall make this my ritual. I shall return to my roots.

I turned away, and slipped beneath the railway bridge, into the subway, then up to pay my respects at the War Memorial. A wreath lay upon fresh white paint and, above me, the bronze soldier stood in perfect detail; life size; his face, his rifle, his bayonet as real as the mud that clung to his legs as he advanced, hopelessly, across the mire of Northern France.

Holywood High Street had changed. Everything was painfully clean; sanitised. Hints of the past remained; a strand of tattered bunting, faded to pink and baby blue, the white now a kind of cream. I smiled. It was a hint of the authentic. Around me, I saw the ersatz; coffee houses, art shops. Flowers spilled onto the street at regular intervals. Nestled among them, the beautiful people sat, smug in the sun, drinking their cappuccinos.

I turned a corner and saw more of the same. I walked and turned again. In a dark and narrow entry, rough men plied their trade. I looked away. It was not my concern. A pile of rubble lay at the bottom of Spencer Street. It had once been a corner shop. I crossed the road and there they were. The Scottish flags and Union Jacks hung limp in the warm air. Every lamppost bore them.

It was safe to return. The tenant of number ______ was gone. I felt sorry for the staff and fellow pensioners in her new home. The war that we had fought and she had won continues to this day. I, the adult, stand between her and the child whose mind she broke. The endless scream no longer deafens me. The drugs have turned the volume down.

The hill was steep and things seemed, at first, to not have changed. I looked closer. Grey plastic framed the new double glazing. Among the houses was a block of flats. The stairwells were no longer open. Vestibules provided an added layer of protection. In a side street, steel shutters hung loose from the windows of a house that was……… no longer empty. I moved on.

There were no people. They had, perhaps, been beamed up by aliens. I saw no children.

The knee-high wall of my old home now bore a steel fence. I stood and stared, but not for long. I did not even look up to the bedroom in which my first breakdown had played itself out and the war had entered its brutal, vicious endgame. The house, I knew, was tenanted, but there was no sign of life, not even a twitch of the net curtains.

At the top of the street, a lone builder sawed a sheet of plywood. I followed the footpath as it curved into Ardlee Avenue and walked the route to my old school. Tall hedges crowded out the pavement. My betters, in their big houses, were keeping the world at bay.

A steep and shaded path led down to the tennis courts. In a different life, I, and anyone, could wander into the grounds of Sullivan Upper just like walking through Queens. A black gate barred the way. I had not the heart to see if it was open. I had become a stranger, and this place a ghost town.

I passed the Catholic Church that I, the defiant one, had openly refused to attend. I continue to this day. I have, like Patti Smith, not sold myself to God.

I had hoped that one thing had remained. It was gone. I had bought my model kits in that shop and crafted them with weeks of loving care to then see them smashed one by one until I had submitted to the invalidation.

As I walked, defeated, down the High Street, a young woman smiled at me. I was glad of that.

Written October 2011


Bridging the Abyss

An abyss separates the dysphoric from those strange beings who function. We may as well be from different planets. They can never understand us. They may judge us, patronise us, whatever, but they will always view us as some inferior form of life. And so every encounter carries with it the unspoken baggage of unworth. To know that one is seen as lesser is to fuel the absence of self-worth. It’s a cycle, a positive feedback loop that forever reinforces the belief that one is nothing. I have always wanted to disappear, which is difficult if you’re tall and broad and clumsy. Ironically the camouflage jackets that should fade me into the physical background make me stand out more like a large bear walking down a quiet suburban street. For the life of me I can never feel comfortable in shell-suits or whatever the fuck it is that people wear round here; football tops, GAA tops. I would wear a Sullivan Upper rugby top, but that would be making a statement, and I have other things to say with my clothing; “I don’t want to be here” being one of them. So I always default to the scruffiest, most inert things, usually so old they’re falling apart. Primark stuff used to last. Those were the days. I still have clothing that’s twenty years old, or more. I never throw anything out. It’s like losing a part of myself.


A name cried out in the night

And I know when dark turns to light

In my sleep I’ll fight

A face from the past


I don’t now feel this hollow




My heart twists me double

I don’t think I can handle

These moments

When I fall reeling

And can’t touch the feeling

Within me


Written 1991


Touch me with your suffering

And maybe I’ll pay attention to you

Throw yourself on my mercy

And maybe I’ll give you a bed and food

But not for long

Because soon I’ll throw you back out into the world

Don’t you know?

I’m in this to help myself


Why do you come back to me?

Where is your life?

Why do you insist on showing me

That you can’t cope?

Sleep on the streets

If that’s all you’re up to

Don’t expect me to give you shelter

For the rest of your life


I don’t want to look at you

I don’t want to see that you

Are Human

And can’t handle your own existence

So I turn my head

And I send you away again

They call me Simon

So I won’t let you

Call me

Pontius Pilate


Written 1991


I saw you again today

There was that pain in your eyes

I saw you and wished that I could

Hold you, could take your pain

And put it on my shoulders

I saw you and wished that I wouldn’t

Feel so alone

I saw you and wished that we

Were free

 Written summer 1988

Acts of Worship and the Banality of Evil

[W]idespread and indiscriminate promotion of condoms [is] an immoral and misguided weapon in our battle against HIV-AIDS. …[C]ondoms may even be one of the main reasons for the spread of HIV-AIDS.”

From the text of a statement issued by the bishops of South Africa following their semiannual meeting, where they considered a change in their official condoms policy in response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic [Karen DeYoung, “AIDS challenges religious leaders,” Washington Post, August 13, 2001].


Parents must reject the promotion of so-called ‘safe sex’ or ‘safer sex,’ a dangerous and immoral policy based on the deluded theory that the condom can provide adequate protection against AIDS.”

Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo and Bishop Elio Sgreccia of the Pontifical Council for the Family [“The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality,” Origins, February 1, 1996].


Every condom sold sends the buyer to acquire the AIDS virus.”

Fr. Gerald Magera Iga, in a campaign urging condom sellers in Uganda to burn up their stocks [Comtex newswire, January 25, 1999].


In Lwak, near Lake Victoria, the director of an Aids testing centre says he cannot distribute condoms because of church opposition. Gordon Wambi told the programme: “Some priests have even been saying that condoms are laced with HIV/Aids.”

Vatican:condoms don’t stop AIDS

Steve Bradshaw

The Guardian October 12th 2003


The primitive hospice in Calcutta was as run down when she died as it always had been—she preferred California clinics when she got sick herself……

… Many volunteers who went to Calcutta came back abruptly disillusioned by the stern ideology and poverty-loving practice of the “Missionaries of Charity,” but they had no audience for their story. George Orwell’s admonition in his essay on Gandhi—that saints should always be presumed guilty until proved innocent—was drowned in a Niagara of soft-hearted, soft-headed, and uninquiring propaganda.

Christopher Hitchens

Mommie Dearest

The pope beatifies Mother Teresa, a fanatic, a fundamentalist, and a fraud.

Slate, October 20th 2003


The legend of her Homes for the Dying has moved the world to tears. Reality, however, is scandalous: In the overcrowded and primitive little homes, many patients have to share a bed with others. Though there are many suffering from tuberculosis, AIDS and other highly infectious illnesses, hygiene is no concern. The patients are treated with good words and insufficient (sometimes outdated) medicines, applied with old needles, washed in lukewarm water. One can hear the screams of people having maggots tweezered from their open wounds without pain relief. On principle, strong painkillers are even in hard cases not given. According to Mother Teresa’s bizarre philosophy, it is “the most beautiful gift for a person that he can participate in the sufferings of Christ”. Once she tried to comfort a screaming sufferer: “You are suffering, that means Jesus is kissing you!” The man got furious and screamed back: “Then tell your Jesus to stop kissing.”

Sanal Edamaruku

India has no reason to be grateful to Mother Teresa


One of Mother Teresa’s volunteers in Calcutta described her “Home for the Dying” as resembling photos of concentration camps such as Belsen. No chairs, just stretcher beds. Virtually no medical care or painkillers beyond aspirin, and a refusal to take a 15-year-old boy to a hospital.

John M Swomley

Exposing Mother Teresa

A child came to my door today. She’s fasting for Trócaire. What could I say? I scribbled my name and address and put myself down for a pound.

I’ll get that to you.”

She could see that I was uncomfortable. She may have thought my embarrassment was financial. I have used this excuse when the organisation itself comes knocking. I could hardly tell them the real reason. I have to live among these people. Increasingly I can relate to the plight of America’s atheists.

On the interwebs I feel free to speak my mind, although doing so in the past has got me beaten to a pulp and then prosecuted. What can I say? We’re the Mississippi of Western Europe.

Millions of Africans die every year from AIDS. The Catholic Church pursues its moral purpose with all the fervour of Eichmann hunting down Europe’s Jews. There is a difference, of course. Eichmann disapproved of the Final Solution. He liked his victims. It was all very unfortunate, but he had a job to do. AIDS is a punishment. Those who abuse sexuality by separating it from its “life giving purpose” should not be encouraged. We are not meant to enjoy it, even within marriage. Instead we are to fill up the planet with countless millions of starving children so that Catholic charities can patronise them with a few crumbs of God’s infinite love.

There is a hospice in Calcutta where the dying are denied morphine and dignity. The ghoul who ran it is no longer with us, but her legacy lives on. Suffering is a gift from God. It brings us closer to Him. And so, the immiseration of Humanity is an act of worship. What can I say? We’re Irish. We’re good at that. We imprisoned children in rape and torture camps where their bodies were mortified and their minds broken beyond repair. It was not an accident. We substitute violence for love and we proclaim that it never did us any harm.

Is contraception “Intrinsically Evil”? It is surreal to me that an organisation that rapes children and then silences them with the threat of eternal damnation sees fit to express an opinion on such an issue. It angers me to hear their boasts about the hospitals and schools they build. Think of the dying, screaming in their own excrement, and all for the glory of someone else’s God, bombarded with the call to embrace Him while they can, for their torture has just begun. An eternity of fire awaits those who refuse His love. You can pack a lot of malice into one wizened woman. She was the divine equivalent of a tardis; her inner abyss perhaps proof of the infinite. Exposing “Hell’s Angel” was, I think, Hitchens’ greatest gift to Humanity.

When I was a child, we raised money for the “Black Babies” in Africa. It was the virtuous thing to do. The PR has improved since then and the Catholic Church has run out of nuns with which to terrorise children. Now they’re entrusted to the parish priest. What can I say? We never learn.

I cannot tell a twelve year old the awful truth; her act of worship, and my acquiescence, are both Crimes against Humanity.

Sarah Silverman has made a video called “Sell the Vatican; Feed the World”. It takes an atheist Jew to point out the elephant in the living room and, in the spirit of Lubitch, she gets in her own, personal snipe,

And, by the way…………….. any involvement in the Holocaust?………Bygone.”

The Tyranny of Terrible Choices

You know, the dead still terrify me. They live within, reminders of how close I came. Kenny, the schizophrenic, lit a fire in the hearth of a derelict house. I like to think he never woke as it burned down round him. Greg, the heroin and alcohol addict, choked to death on his own vomit. Perhaps. We’ll never know. He was too badly decomposed when they found him. Maybe it was his hepatitis. Robert hanged himself. So did Tam. This surprised me. He seemed more robust, tough minded. He was the only one of them I didn’t like, too brutal.

Sammy’s the one I feel the most. There were two members of staff who looked out for him, gave me money to get him a bottle of Mundies wine for when his withdrawal kicked in. I would share it with him. It was nasty stuff, but it didn’t take much to make me feel a little less awful. Sammy was a gentleman when he was sober; so meek and polite. And then the shakes came and relief from them released his private torment. So much anger and vitriol and savage words for women. I would calm him the best I could, listen to his demons; liberating Belsen, being driven from his home because he’d married a Catholic. So much for his service in the War. That clearly counted for nothing when the Troubles started.

I’d been moved to another hostel within the ***** *********. It bought me time, held eviction at bay. Some of the staff invited me to drink with them in the town. Outside the bar I found Sammy, drunk, incoherent, soaked by the rain. He’d been dumped in the streets yet again. I had to get him to a night shelter. He would not be persuaded. He wanted to go back to the Village, atop Sandy Row. It was where he came from. He would not be told it was not safe. I needed help and went inside.

It’s Sammy…..”

Never mind Sammy. Do you want to throw some money in the pot?”

I walked away from them.

I could not talk sense to Sammy.

A passing couple, veterans of the gutter, took him off my hands.

The moral pressure of those who cared always embarrassed the hostel manager to let him back in. She even tried “resettling” him in a mildewed flat owned by some Rachman. That didn’t last and back he came to be ejected time and again.

In the end, he made it back to his roots. They found him hacked to death in an empty slum in the Village.


Hostels are their own moral universe, magnets for predators. You get to play God, decide who stays and who goes. I survived in them for four years. How? It was out of my hands. I owe it to the kindness of others who saw someone worth saving. The residents in one house elected me to speak for them. I was informed after the fact and did my best,

You have to let her stay.”

We can’t.”

Those two are kids. What are they gonna do?”

It’s up to them. We’ve done all we can.”

Among the monsters, those turds who float to the top of the Human Sewer, are some who care. They tolerated my anger, and my outbursts were ferocious; all the more so, I think, when arguing on behalf of others. Don’t get me wrong, I was not promiscuous with my concern. Some people had to go, especially the violent ones. The truth is that you can’t protect everyone. There are only so many beds available. You have to do triage and I, it was clear, could not survive a return to the streets. Few can and therein lies the problem; who do you save? This is the Tyranny of Terrible Choices. People kept me alive because they thought I was worth it.

I’ve always felt I owe it to them to make something of my life. Every time I’ve been kicked into the abyss I’ve clawed my way back onto the ledge. I haven’t got very far. My hopes and dreams are ashes. So it goes. And the dead haunt me. But I’m still here, forever terrified.