Bird on Barbed wire

4 May

Bird on Barbed Wire

This one was written while Matt was in prison and describes his anguish and heart break as what he sees from his cell window: 

Bird on Barbed Wire


From barred cell winder there i spy,

Poor sea bird that is doomed to die.

I watch his wings – how wild the flap

In hopes to free from deathly trap

I see that bird with head hung doon,

The murderous wire, its leg, wrapped roon.


Oh bird that thrilled with daring flight,

That this should be thy deathly plight.

No more you’ll soar to sweep the sky,

Nor let the currents bear the high.

For barberous wire now holds thee tight,

From death my friend, there is no flight!


Blind victim of that blood wire

How soon your wings must surely tire.

The wind and see will call to you,

In whispers soft, their fond adieu.

Light fingered winds, your plumes caress,

The winds will moan your sad distress.


From caverns deep in human mind,

Such wire was wrought for humankind.

T’was made for prisoners such as me,

Alas, the victim, thou should be.

My eyes grow dim – the salt tears run.

Farewell, dear bird, soon death will come.

I don’t know how many hundreds of times I have now read this poem in my short life, yet i remain incapable of stopping “the salt tears” from flowing every time I read it.

As one stares out barred cell windows, one would expect one’s thoughts to be on pity of thy self. You would expect one to be consumed with the selfishness and pity that often consumes a human being under extreme pain and suffering. Yet for Matt, even under severe external pressure, his heart is never broken by thoughts of his own conditions. What affected him so deeply that it drove him to write such beautiful yet heartfelt anguishing poem, was the pain and undeserved suffering of his fellow sentient being.

You can feel his helplessness, not for his own condition, Matt till the very last day, always remained completely in control of his inner condition. But instead you sense he felt incompetent by not being able to help free his fellow sentient being because of the bars and wires wrapped around him too. Although the poem refers to the bird’s suffering, he too was caught and tangled up in bars and wires. He alludes to this when he says:

Such wire was made for humankind

They produce such instruments of pain and inhumanity to imprison their enemies, yet it is the innocent and pure who suffer most.

Oh bird that thrilled with daring flight,

That this should be thy deathly plight

Matt had found his very own Icarus. Matt himself was in many ways an Icarus. Maybe he seen much of himself in that bird. He too dared to fly high and far, to push the limits of our lot in this life and for that they tried to burn his wings. But unlike the poor bird he now stood by and helplessly watched perish, Matt’s wings could not be burnt or captured. For Matt’s wings were separate from and extended far beyond his physical body. You could lock him up, surround him in bars and barbed wire, yet his wings remained free and transient to fly high above the prison walls and beyond. They knew that, hence why the governor of Peterhead, Scotland’s toughest jail at the time, once pulled him into his office and said “Lygate, you’ve outgrown this prison!” Thats because the parts that truely matter, his mind and heart were never imprisoned with him. He remained a free soul. Like the bird, we each must face our inevitable deathly plight in this lot of life. Yet as Matt’s poems, Matt’s paintings, more importantly as Matt’s words, actions and inspirations prove, as death reclaims our physical body back to the earth, the wings we each grow and spread in life can continue living, thriving and flying high. Matt’s wings transcended his body a long time before his death, but even now in death, the breeze they create can still be felt in the wind today and will be felt even more tomorrow. Such breezes are what create tomorrows tornados. Tornados that can transform all that came before. Wipe away the inadequacies and mindless suffering of the past, demonstrated so pertinently in this poem; and replace it with a new enlightened force empathetic to the needs and desires of the many – not the squanders of the few.

An empathetic force Matt already recognised:

The wind and sea will call to you,

In whispers soft – their fond adieu.

Light fingered winds, your plumes caress,

The sea will moan your sad distress.

This life force – we all can sometimes feel. This is the force we feel is offended by such useless and meaningless suffering in the world. This is the force we feel in common with all our sentient brothers and sisters. The common force that allows us to empathise with one another. Share and delight in each other’s pleasures, soar through each other’s dreams and anguish in each other’s pain. Matt always knew that the wretched souls who lived in “caverns deep in hellish minds” would one day come for him. He dared to fly free from his Labyrinth. Not only that, he dared to show others how to join him. To free themselves from the Labyrinth we ourselves built and maintain. Of course the wretched slave owners would seek to burn Matt’s wings and bend his knee. Unfortunately for them, the never succeeded in either task. Matt’s fire burnt brighter than theirs. How can you set fire to fire? Matt was made of different stuff. An oak tree can blow and sway in the wind, but you can’t make it bend its knee. You may try to chop it down, but the acorns it spreads in its life will vastly outlive you and your wretched ways.

The analogy of the oak tree is an interesting one. Someone more clued up on the subject than me recently told me that acorns rely upon squirrels and other foragers to plant them, then another dig them back up and then bury them again. This is an interesting analogy as, like the acorn, the ideas Matt dedicated his life to will not grow without help. Words and ideas gain their power through interdependence, co-operation, unity of purpose and motivation. Ideas, no matter how rational, will die like the acorn, unless we, like the squirrel repeatedly dig them up, let them see the light then replant the seeds in new territories. Only then will the strong oak emerge. Such emergence cant happen if we are divided and disunited. We must realise our true nature as one. We must feel the suffering of all others as our own. Theirs is our own pain traversing through our veins and pumping in our hearts. Only then when we transcend the ego can we fight together and the revolution may truly begin and the Phoenix once again rise from the ashes.

Re-reading this poem tonight, while sitting stuck in work with nothing much better to put my mind to, suddenly gave me a streak of creativity that i haven’t had (or at least tested out) since I was in my early teens at least. A streak of creativity that somehow produced the poem written below. I didn’t intend to write a poem, nor did it feel particularly like it came from me (as I would usually define myself). But whatever the case, in the past hour, a poem spontaneously poured through my fingers and into the words written below. As it was written under an hour ago its really isn’t too polished and certainly doesn’t try to stand up to the words written in the above poem. But I’ve added it here as a footnote rather than assigning it to some private notebook that will gather dust under my bed, as it is inspired directly by the poem above and is dedicated to the same man as this blog. So it seemed appropriate.

Hope you enjoy and feel free to leave comments and join the discussion. If anyone would like to add something to the blog, some work or memories of their own, please contact me at and I can let you know the password or can post anything up for you.

Ode to a Wretched Bird

From one great sea we all once came,

Our blue-green, wet ancestral hame.

To conquer Earth became our aim,

Death, pain, suffering, who’s to blame?


To earth and dust we must return,

From ancient lands, we scorch and burn.

Through wind and sky, some dare to fly

Though most ask why, they puzzle and sigh.


Why would any man care, to bear,

the pain of another being,

Most think only “How do I fare?”

“Tis not my neck that needs freeing.”

They do not realise what is true,

A truth less known, but hardly new.

That man and bird are but the same,

A truth too easy to disclaim.


What one suffers, the other must too,

Where one used to dream, another once flew.

From same sea we did emerge,

Same sky we share – soar and surge.


Same original mum we share,

But, one soul we both must bare.

For life and death is just an illusion,

A labyrinth made of our own confusion.


So let us not be torn apart,

The goal of unity, is the greatest art.

Together we must remain smart,

Not to rip apart our mind and heart


Divided, we shall all be ensnared,

The troubles now? They will soon be squared.

Remember, we must – now don’t be scared,

“Brothers shall be” – says our greatest Baird.


Span the ages from times gone by to times yet to be,

Our destiny shall be revealed, it’s easy to forsee

Brothers shall be, must be the decree,

Poor wretched dieing bird,


…and me.


Tree’s for Life/ Alzheimer’s Scotland

14 Feb

There is now a tree grove set up in my dads name that will be planted this Autumn as part of the regrowing of the natural Caledonian forest.

All trees planted are native trees and none of them will ever be cut down.

We all must one day return to the earth and so let it be in memory of Matt that from one strong oak, comes many others. As those trees grow, and flourish, so too will the hopes and dreams of man, that one day the world o’er shall brothers be for aw that.

So far friends and family at the funeral have donated £200, £100 of which has gone to Alzhiemers  Scotland, and £100 of which to plant the grove.

Alzhiemer’s Scotland and ‘Matt’s girls’ did such good work in Matt’s final years to support him to live the independent life he chose to live until his final days.

In doing the work they do, AS help liberate people from the otherwise crippling effects of Alzhiemers. Without their good work into research and care provision, there would be no future for those of us who contract the disease.

Through theirs and others work, new branches of hope for the future are being discovered every day – – and thousands of others like my father are spared the destitution of institutional care homes by the work of the many dedicated support workers who assist those people like my father to continue living and thriving in the community.

If you would like to donate to either charity in Matt’s name, please do so. You can either add some trees to his grove (only £5 a tree) or make a donation to Alzheimers Scotland in memorandum to Matt. In doing so the good work, love and liberty Matt dedicated his entire life to will continue.


by Matt Lygate

When days are drear and dark as night;

And nothing seems to turn out right;

When problems tear your mind apart,

And grief and pain rip at your heart;

Tis then alone your friend you’ll find,

The friend who’s honest, staunch and kind.

When times are good he’ll laugh with you,

And when they’re bad he’ll prove he’s true.

He’ll take your problems as his own;

His friendships given – not on a loan!

A friend like that’s worth more than gold,

True friendship can’t be bought or sold.

There’s friends’ you’ll find who’ll drop you flat;

And change you like they change a hat;

Their friendships based on simple whim,

It’s chance of growing’s mighty slim.

Each friend for them must have a use,

And when it’s done they cut them loose.

The friend who’s staunch – by God they’re few!

When trouble calls will stand by you.

Your faults he knows – he points them out;

Not mock at you – or carry tales about;

With such a friend you won’t go wrong,

The bond of friendship must grow strong.

Dec 1976

Goodbye dear friend. You live forever in our hearts, our words and our actions.

4 Feb


New plaque placed at the head of Matt’s grave. A fitting Burns poem to sum up the man himself.



Farewell to a Beloved Brother

27 Jan





Today, we stood together, our guts wrenched with grief,

our minds racing with memories,

our hearts filled with anguish and regrets,

but above all, filled with  love.


He was a beloved son of John & Dolly

The third of six children, he is the first to leave us.

The remaining five are left diminished, incomplete

Today, we buried our brother Matt.


Throughout his life, he lived by the Socialist precept:

“Work for the day when we all will be free

and equal citizens of one world

living in peace  together.”


Let  that, be Matt’s legacy to us all.


Doris:  25/01/2012

Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win!

20 Jan

Matt Lygate

1938 – 2012

Funeral Mass

Wednesday 25th Jan

10am St Aloysius Church

25 Rose St, Glasgow, G3 6RE

Celebration of Matt’s Life:

Burn’s Supper

1pm – 4pm

Queens Cross Community Rooms

472 Maryhill Rd


G20 7NA

“An honest man here lies at rest

As e’er God with his image blest.

The friend of man, the friend of truth;

The friend of Age, and guide of Youth:

Few hearts like his with virtue warm’d,

Few heads with knowledge so inform’d:

If there’s another world, he lives in bliss;

If there is none, he made the best of this.”


– Robert Burns




Matt Lygate was born on 26/12/1938 in Govan Glasgow. From early on, he became an accomplished artist, orator, and thinker. He always loved the great outdoors and would often dissapear for hours up hills and down gullies to the distress of his parents. As a teenager, he moved to Sunderland with his family and became one of the best renouned tailor’s cutters of his time. Matt loved his family and family life, however when ordered to join the British Army (forced conscription was still in place at that point, even after the war), Matt, like his father during WWI, refused stating he would never join an imperialist British Army. That same week, he was on a boat to New Zealand before the powers that be could abscond him. Matt had been an avid member of the British Communist Party as well as a devout Christian, believing that Christ himself was a revolutionary socialist. Once in New Zealand, Matt’s fervour and passion for justice as well as adventure blossomed. In his years on the islands of New Zealand, he travelled from village to village without map or tent, taking on local hard labour jobs as he went. He was institutional in the setting up of the first railway worker’s union and fought for the rights of the Maori people across the island. His travels took him from the heights of the Alps, picking deadly weeds in the snow, to the fields of  grain where he worked along side many of the industrious indiginous people of the island. On leaving New Zealand to return to his family, the New Zealand secret service met him at the docs to make Matt aware he would not be allowed back any time soon. Such was the impact Matt left everywhere he went. Many took inspiration from his great work and polemics on justice, liberty and equality, others saw him as a grave threat to the established order. Matt excelled at and loved playing both the saint and the sinner in the eyes of different beholders. He was never one for cult status. He always insisted people judge him on what he said and not who he is.

On return from New Zealand, Matt’s political and social work continued. He became heavily involved and a leading figure in the Scottish and Irish republican and socialist movements. He was a leading founder of the Workers Party of Scotland which was a Marxist-Leninist Republican party advocating the establishment of a Scottish socialist republic in the same tradition of John Maclean’s vision. He was also instrumental in the establishment of the John Maclean Society which did much work to reserect the memory and life’s work of Maclean. He believed in the emancipation of mankind worldwide. He was a true internationalist, involved in the struggle for Irish and Palestinian independence, meeting many world figures over his time. In fact when nominated years later for Glasgow University Rector, he stood down to allow votes for Yassar Arafat. Over his time he has been nominated and rejected two honourary degrees from both Glasgow and Edinburgh University. He rejected them on the political grounds that they might corrupt him and remove him from his working class route, but in truth it was also because Matt was a brutally modest man and shunned any idolisation or cult status. In 1972, Matt and 4 others were convicted of bank robbery and handed out the longest sentences in Scottish legal history for non murder crimes. During the case, Matt dismissed his defence team and represented himself. Knowing the fact he was to be tryed, not on bank robbery, but his politics, he used the court rather than to defend himself, but to attack the very system he knew aimed to destroy him. In his closing statment, he told the judge it was not his violence that had brought him to court, but that of the state against the working class. The same violence that had put 150,000 people out of work at the time in Scotland and stolen children’s milk leading to the return of Rickets in Scotland. He announced that the day would come when those who judged him would themselves be judged, an announcement that Lord Dunpark did not take too kindly too. On announcement of his 24 year sentence, Matt looked to the public gallery and with clenched fist shouted “Long live the workers of Scotland” and with that began the longest bank robbery sentence in Scottish history. Although the judge himself admitted the crimes to be political and although it was proven in court, none of the alleged stolen funds went to Matt, he was not allowed political prisoner status. He was also denied appeal, a basic right in Scots law based on the statement by the presiding Judge that Matt openly supported bank robbery and so did not require appeal. A political belief in the redistribution of money in s capitalist society did not account to acceptance of guilt of specific robberies, yet the judge refused to accept this and Matt was denied appeal against his unequivically long sentence.

Once in prison, Matt’s work against injustice continued and as ever, he remained a thorn in the establishment’s side. On issue of a boiler suit and ID number for instance, Matt refused both. The suit did not fit nor did the shoes. He was told to like it or lump it and lump it he did, choosing to spend his first experiences in prison in solitary confinement naked and on hunger strike. Matt’s flare for art and creativity never dulled at any point in his life. Many of the prison inmates were illiterate and Matt spent much of his time actively teaching some of Glasgow’s most hardened criminals to read, write and paint. He would often write poems and paint minature Burns portraits and the likes for other inmates girlfriends and mothers, so much so that he was called to the Governor’s office in Peterhead and told “You’ve outgrown this place”. By this point much of the mail leaving Peterhead had Matt’s imprint directly or indirectly. Matt seen this as an opportunity to address the hypocricy of a system that refused to help and educate those in need and instead punish those who tried to do so. Matt was eventually moved round from prison to prison, however not before forcing the governor to introduce reading, writing and art classes for Class A prisoners in Peterhead for the first time ever. He set up organisations to protect the rights of prisoners and object to the antiquated Victorian style prison systems where ‘slopping out’ and three to a cell were still common place. Despite often spending much of his sentence in solitary confinement, under constant light (even through the night which is a documented form of torture) and regular movings, Matt never capitulated or lost his passion for his beliefs. If anything, Matt only ever became stronger in the face of adversity. After 8 years behind bars, Matt was offered his first parole hearing. Matt’s response was unique in denying his opportunity for parole. In a letter of explanation to the hearing, he demonstrated his view that the parole was a sham and had no intent of releasing him yet. As such he chose to not waste his time in their presence and in doing so giving his family false hope that there was ever a chance of his release at that time. Matt knew the system and was never afraid to challenge it, even (and most often) at the expense of his liberty. He had a clean record his entire time in prison and yet was kept in Class A for 8 years, much of which in solitary confinement. One lawyer once commented publically on Matt’s case that he was given 8 years for robbery and 16 for his politics.

His fight against adversity and injustice continued further after his eventual release 12 years later. He reinstated the Workers Party of Scotland and began one of the biggest political movements Britain has ever seen. From humble beginnings, the anti-poll tax movement was born in Maryhill. Some of the earliest ‘non-payment of poll tax’ movements began when Matt and a friend tramped the entirety of Scotland, just like he had back in New Zealand. They knocked on people’s doors and explained what the poll tax was and how they could resist it. The movement picked up pace, however to begin with neither the Labour party nor the Communist party nor any of the left would support Matt. They all claimed the anti-poll tax to be a Scottish phenomenon and thought nothing of it. How wrong they were.

During this period, Matt met his first love who helped create the success that was the anti poll tax movement ran initially from their small Phoenix Press shop. After the success of the anti-poll tax movement, Matt began to move out of public life and became the family man, raising 3 happy children and looking after countless others. Matt the family man was just as passionate a man as Matt the political fighter. He raised his children open mindedly and lovingly but just as they flourished into their own lives, Matt himself was struck with the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. This however never for one day removed Matt’s ultimate passion for life, liberty and nature. Over the next 8 or so years, Matt’s short term memory slowly deteriorated, but his character remained the same as ever. He remained the firebrand optimist he ever was and every day was greeted with a smile and a laugh. Every leaf on every tree was just as beautiful and every moment just as fullfilling. Right up until Matt’s final moments on this earth, he never passed another human being without acknowledging them and offering comment on how beautiful a day it was. He never walked without noticing a new colour or pattern on a bush or flower he maybe had passed every day for years. He never lost his love of nature, walking and talking. He remained a thinker and philosopher of epic proportions. Even in the latter stages of his Dementia, he could still recite Burn’s quotes that could epitimise the feeling of a million words. He still loved his beloved books from the many book stores he had ran in his life, and his house was always adourned with many of the great artworks he and others had completed.

His life is a story of adversity, a fight against injustice and for the liberty and freedom of all men and women. His life is a story of love, of love for his fellow man, of every creature and living thing on earth, of his beloved partner Linda whom he shared so many of his adventures and loved so dearly, of his children who he passed so much of his wisdom and passion for life, for his beloved dog/s who saw him through to the end, sharing in his delight of nature and his epic walks, a story of love of all life itself. His life is a story of passion and adventure, adventures that spanned the globe, that influenced untold thousands, and whose ripples can still be felt today. His life is a story of hope, hope for humanity, of never ending optimism in the face of all adversity and seeming impossibilities. Hope that even in all our darkest hours, light, laughter and beauty can always be found. His life is a story of many lives, of many faces, of many chapters hardly even touched upon here.

His exit from this world in fittingly dramatic circumstances ends  the final chapter in a life that touched so many, that changed so much and that even today, continues to inspire and motivate others. In that way his life lives on after a death that outlived the old enemies like the News of the World,a life that saw Scottish republicanism move from a fringe movement to the very centre of Scottish politics and watched over all of his children becoming the flourishing adults they are today.

In the end, Matt Lygate was never consumed by his disease. He died the “giant inside a small man’s body” he ever was. He died a fundamentally happy and independent man on his own two feet living by no one else’s but his own will. What more could any of us ask from the game of life and death?

Hello world!

20 Jan

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