We picked up our car from a car hire lady who was similarly
kind and at a stroke wiped off 40 euros from our bill, as the
car hadn't been cleaned. We climbed into our little muddy
Micra and set off. This friendliness was repeated whenever we
stopped. A young man winked in my direction and asked how was
I doing I turned to see who he was talking to, of course it had
been me. I was shamed but how was he to know that in certain parts
of England we must carefully avoid all eye contact in case we
get beaten up.
Eventually we arrived at Monasterevin and found our way to Marie's
guesthouse, down a long winding lane through a wood. She welcomed
us like family "Will yer have a pot of tea now?" she
stayed and chatted a while and then we retired ready for the big
Tomorrow came, sun shining and showing us that we were staying
in a veritable mansion in the midst of its own grounds. True the
mansion had seen better days and out the back windows were bits
of tractors and the usual detritus of farm life. But the peace
and quiet was like balm to my worried soul. Marie as kind as a
Arrived at the Hopkins' school with Iulia and Belinda,
we had only managed literally a twenty-minute practice as she
had arrived tired and worn early afternoon. Iulia embraced and
wished us well and Belinda and me gave each other a hug of consolation
as we walked into this literary lions den. Belinda whispering
"Just go for it".
The room was academic sized not concert sized which I felt instinctively
was right. I laid the song lyrics not on a music stand but a lectern.
I had on my t-Shirt which Iulia had made, me choosing the text
from Wreck of the Deutschland which Martin Beek had sent to us:
"Let him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of
us, be a crimson-cresseted east"
The audience were milling around and all seemed to be drinking
from wine glasses which was good, as we could set up without being
seen as the incompetents we were. Richard Austin, who recites
Hopkins work all over the world and who I had only talked to via
e-mail came up to me and gave me a great big warm hug of welcome,
that friendly gesture made me feel at home and helped dissipate
my nerves. It transpired then that when I rose to sing, although
tingling, I felt an inner confidence that it was right to be here.
Richard rose and gave us a kindly introduction.
I started off by doing "Felix Randal". Any song that
can bring tears to the eyes of Joe Potts and myself couldn't go
far wrong. I then did Inversnaid, I felt the people were now with
me. To seal it Belinda now stepped up and we did a sequence of
songs together. . She inspires me with confidence. It felt good
to be in that space with her at my side, both of us enjoying the
moment and becoming bolder and freer in our improvisations. One
time she started an echo of my words, which we had never before
tried. At the end of one song there was a loud and heartfelt "Bravo",
The applause was an embrace, I felt that we and the audience were
now one. After all, we were all here because of our love for Gerard
and his genius words, not because of us, because of this I could
relax and enjoy performing for once.
Richard came up for one song (The Golden Echo) and did some recitation
over my guitar backing. His performance grew as he got into the
rhythm of my playing, his voice rising passionately with the words,
which he so obviously loves (and knows by heart).
We finished on "The Woodlark" a song so long and
complicated that if there were any fear at all I would not have
attempted it without practice. Now though we just started out
and listened to see what would happen. We finished and when I
looked up I was shocked that we were in the middle of a standing
ovation. This was a new one on me. I literally had no idea what
to do so I just gave the blessed Belinda a hug and let her deal
The set list was as follows:
The Times Are Nightfall (virtually an improvisation)
Let Me Be To Thee As The Circling Bird
The Leaden Echo
The Golden Echo (also with Richard)
At The Wedding March
Thee, God, I Come From
The rest of the conference was a joy. The people I met and the
life changing conversations and the things I learned and the warm
acceptance and love we received from all these people turned me
around in some way. It could have turned my head but I think it
just turned my heart to face in a slightly different direction.
One a little bit more human and kindly.
One day over dinner, which was served to us not by sullen faced
waitresses but by polite little angels, I remarked that I had
found not one example of scholarly snobbery but only a humility
(that was all the better for being hidden behind jokes and laughter.)
We decided that the reason was obvious. Hopkins himself, who time
and again emphasised that God, is first and foremost a kindly
Father to all. I had the feeling that we were all part of his
I must thank Desmond Egan who invited us to play at the festival
without even hearing the songs and he and Richard O'Rourke,
for showering us all with love and acceptance.
I also want to thank everyone who in any way gave me and Iulia
help or a word of encouragement as we struggled our way through
all this. Joe Potts said the kindest words of all when he said,
regarding these songs, that if I died tomorrow my life would not
have been wasted. Bless him and bless Martin for his kind actions.
Thanks to those who on hearing previews of the songs were extremely
enthuisiastic, especially Neil West and Annie Dollery and of course
Richard Austin for all his help and proofreading and Kieron Walsh
for all his practical help and encouragement, and everyone else
who helped us or was touched by the work in some way.
I can relax in this because it is not by me you were touched
but by Hopkins himself who still lives and exists in the communion
of the saints.
We all thank you Father Gerard S.J.
God bless you all