Growing up a Presbyterian in dour, post-war Ulster, I became aware that many of my elders regarded life as something other than joyful, and that even the simplest of pleasures might be regarded with suspicion lest it be sinful.
Adherence to a stern set of Biblical rules was of paramount importance, and guilt, often unspecified, was never far away.
Protestantism in Ulster splits into three main strands: Church of Ireland, Presbyterianism and Methodism, whilst alongside these exist a host of offshoots, many of which worship in tiny Gospel Halls around the province.
Here’s a snapshot, in verse, of one of such hall.
The preacher’s words would rise and fall
like arrows: God’s wrath raining down
on Sunday faces, dull with fear.
The hall was spartan and austere
as though his bat-like, flowing gown
cast a great shadow over all.
Joyousness was in short supply
within those walls. Austerity
was all they knew, that little flock.
Shipwrecked, they clung to the cold rock
of religion, despairingly
waving as life sailed blindly by.