They were boys of Carson’s army,

sons of Ulster, loyal and true,

marching off to France for glory,

fighting for the red, white and blue.


Description of T Atkinson on enlistment

            height 5’7”, weight 122 lbs,

            chest when fully expanded 34”,

            complexion fresh, hair fair,

            distinctive marks – broad scar

            on bridge of nose, pulse 72.


In shattered stumps of Thiepval Wood

Tommy helped the dead and dying,

above the thunder of battle

he could hear his brother crying.


You are hereby warned that if,

            after enlistment, it is found that

            you have given a wilfully wrong answer

            to any of the following questions

            you will be liable to a punishment

            of 2 years imprisonment with hard labour.


He picked up the broken body

of Ulster’s brave defender,

holding on with all his strength, said

“remember, Bob, no surrender.”


Private T Atkinson has undergone

            a course of training at this depot

            and is now qualified in first aid

            and ambulance work.  He has been

            well behaved and has shewn

            an intelligent interest in his work

            Aldershot 20/11/07


Bob held his brother’s hand and said,

“Sure, there’s no winners in a war.

In the end all you’ve got are those

that lost, and those that lost some more.”


            Men joining Section A Army Reserve

            will be liable to be called out

            on army service under the provision

            of the Territorial and Reserve Forces Act 1907.

            Mobilized at Cosham 5/8/14

            Posted to 9th Field Ambulance 5/8/14.


The next morning Bob still hung on,

though he was very close to death,

he whispered this to his brother,

the smell of rum thick on his breath.



I certify that I am unmarried

            and that my next of kin

            is my mother, Mrs L Atkinson,

            Hyndford Street, Belfast.


“Tommy, take me home to Ulster,

to the old church in Killyman,

mother can visit me with flowers,

please take me home Tom, if you can.”


            Transferred to Section B Army Reserve

            on demobilization 16/3/19


Tommy wept at Bobby’s graveside,

in the hushed trees of Aveluy Wood,

two years later he was sailing home,

but Bobby never could.


            I do not claim to be suffering

            a disability due to

            my military service.

            Place of examination Cologne 6/12/19


He carried Bobby’s last words home

to a broken hearted mother,

he carried his memory

to his grave, soldier, friend, and brother.


Tom Atkinson, Field Ambulance, R.M.A.C.  1890 – 1971


Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme

Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme


i.m. ‘Heart of Midlothian Pals Battalion’, 16th Royal Scots


Frank McGuinness wasn’t good with names,

so he called up the cast of ‘The Sons of Ulster’

from the back page of the Coleraine Chronicle,

a football team, although he can’t recall the club;

he hadn’t much interest in football,

but thought it would give them authenticity,

a sense of belonging to a particular place.


Imagine the first day of the season,

fans tumbled through turnstiles

full of anticipation and Saturday afternoon beer,

flags unfurled and scarves tied tight,

programs pushed into pockets,

filling the terraces, rank after rank,

to cheer a team that never took the field.


They saw no valiant attacks or heroic defence,

or their boys play as if their lives depend on it;

while shot after shot found its mark,

fans remained standing, until the final whistle,

and as they walked silently away,

Boyd, Currie, Ellis, Gracie, Wattie

remained on the field of play.

Truck Stop

Truck Stop



11:00 pm, 31 August ‘97

truck stop, half way between

Noosa and Cairns,

finished a smoke of Nimbin’s finest,

Marley’s little helper pulling me through

twenty-seven hours

care of McCafferty’s coach service.

A chipped Formica table,

microwaved sausage roll with BBQ sauce

(they didn’t have HP),

instant coffee in cardboard cup,

sweating legs sticking to a plastic seat.


A fourteen-inch colour TV,

chained to the wall,

with a crowd crying round it;

trucker drivers, and bikers,

and waitresses, and cooks,

and a lady dressed for… work.


None of them really knew her.

They weren’t related, or lovers,

or neighbours, or co-workers

or people that travelled the same bus

(I doubt she ever travelled by bus),

they didn’t drink in the same bar,

go to the same clubs,

or share a joke in the gym.


We hadn’t lost a cure for cancer,

or an Einstein, or a Dylan, or a Heaney,

or a Jesus.

And, Jesus, they were crying

like she was…



It may have been herbally induced apathy,

or being 10000 miles from home,


I didn’t feel anything

apart from a slight sense of perplexity,

that she seemed to be held

in the same esteem as Shane Warne,

or Kylie, or a schooner of VB.


Strand Cinema Poem


for John McBride Neill


There was the Savoy and Lyceum,

the Majestic and Colosseum,

the Regal and the Roxy,

the Tonic and the Troxy,

the Princess and the Pallidrome,

the Alhambra and Hippodrome.

Great picture palaces,

art deco and glass,

velvet and brass,

where the poor of Belfast

could feel like stars

for a night.


And the Strand,

sailing up the Holywood Road

like a great ocean liner,

where my grandmother

took a flask of tea and sandwiches

to Gone With The Wind,

and my father watched

Flash Gordon and Roy Rodgers,

and rode an imaginary

Trigger the two miles home.


Now the Lido is a chapel,

the Metro sells fried chicken

the Apollo, a Chinese supermarket,

and the Alpha, a loyalist drinking den.


But the Strand,

where my father

saw Flash kiss Dale,

and my grandmother

saw Rhett kiss Scarlet,

where I kissed a girl badly

in the back row, five minutes

before the film ended,


the Strand

still stands.

still stands.

It’s Just a Ride

Comedy’s Castro,

revolutionary in more ways than one.

Stood on the same stage as Hendrix,

cancer eating you from the inside out,

and you still found time to light a cigarette,

inhale deeply, and shout

about the hypocrisy

of living in the world’s greatest democracy.

You pondered the injustice of the failed

assassination attempt on Regan,

that politicians all are devils,

and Bush is Satan’s son.

It was god and guns and love and peace,

it was an Alabama uncle’s love for his niece.

You asked us to consider why

people who believe in creationism

look remarkably unevolved,

and what would Jesus think

of people who wore crosses.

You told the suck your own cock joke,

and suggested we hunt and kill Billy Ray Cyrus

(now, with the benefit of hindsight,

there would have been an unexpected bonus

that even you couldn’t have foreseen).

You told a joke about the LA riots,

In a room full of headers,

And got a laugh, even though we knew

Belfast ones were better.

You believed to the end that

pornography is good,

war is wrong,

and all drugs should be legal,

not compromising a single inch.

When three shots rang out

and you fell dead to the stage

nine hundred people didn’t flinch.

Paleontology Lesson



On Easter Sunday, with a sense of irony,

I took you hunting for fossils,

with a garden trowel, your red beach bucket,

and what my father would a called a “riddle”.

When we stopped to dig you asked how I knew

it was the right place, I told you to trust me.

I dug a hole into the past, you filled it with sea water,

swirling the Jurassic mud with your fingers,

dredging the hole with the bucket and sifting

sludge through the riddle like a couple of sourdoughs.


Ramblers circumnavigated us, but one stopped

to ask what we were doing, you told him,

and he looked at you as if you were mad,

and me as if I should have more sense,

and smiled politely and rambled on.

When we found our first one you held it

aloft, like a nugget of grey gold,

arms black to the elbows with lias clay,

a Gryphaea, the Devil’s toenail, seeing

the light, the first in 200 million years.


Stones speak to us without saying a word,

fragments of truth we piece back together,

evidence lies just below the surface,

if you know where to dig.

if you know where to dig.