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Dean Morton, a man of the people, is set to make his mark on Dublin

By Alf McCreary

Published 24/09/2016

Distinguished service: Dean William Morton with his wife Rosemary following his last service in St Columb’s Cathedral
Distinguished service: Dean William Morton with his wife Rosemary following his last service in St Columb’s Cathedral

Today is a milestone in the life of Dean William Morton, formerly of St Columb's Cathedral in Londonderry, and also that of his family.

After 19 years of distinguished service in Derry, he is being installed as the Dean of the historic St Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin.

One of his predecessors was none other than the celebrated writer and satirist Dean Jonathan Swift, who was appointed in 1713 and was, much earlier, the Vicar of Kilroot.

The appointment of Dean Morton to St Patrick's is a massive step forward and also a singular honour. He joins a list of highly-distinguished, and several not-so-distinguished, Deans of St Patrick's.

Outsiders might think that the challenges of running one big cathedral is much the same as that of running another, but each one is very different.

Dean Morton will bring all his considerable experience of his time in Londonderry to his new post in Dublin. He is moving a long distance, not only physically, but also culturally.

The Church of Ireland background is the same, but the two cities are worlds apart and, if Brexit goes through, they will no longer even be neighbours within the European Union.

Without doubt, William Morton, and his elegant and charming wife Rosemary, have left their mark on Derry.

Last Sunday, in an emotional farewell service in St Columb's, the large congregation, which included civic and political leaders, paid tribute to the bridge-building which Dean Morton and his family have carried out during nearly two decades of service in that remarkable city.

Derry has long been part of the fulcrum of Irish history.

It was central in the Williamite wars, when it held out as it was famously laid siege to by the Jacobite forces.

The city was also the cradle of the mid-20th century Civil Rights movement and, in recent years, the different communities and factions have painfully brokered a peace which other parts of Northern Ireland, and notably Belfast, have been unable to achieve.

This is sometimes taken for granted, but the people of Londonderry deserve great credit for what they have achieved, often against almost overwhelming odds.

In his final sermon in St Columb's Cathedral last Sunday, Dean Morton made an eloquent and moving tribute to a city and its people whom he has grown to love so much.

He said: "You have created something beautiful in terms of a greater harmony in community, from what was, at times, anything but beautiful - the Troubles, the strife, the community tension.

"Thanks to you, you have begun a process of healing of a society broken and fragmented, and you have sown the seeds, and are nurturing the shoots of the emergence of reconciliation from conflict.

"I congratulate both parishioners and everyone in the city and beyond for working so diligently for transformation."

A couple of years ago, it was my privilege to stay overnight at the Deanery in the city ,after addressing a large congregation in St Columb's Cathedral, at the invitation of Dean Morton.

The next morning he and I walked down to Austin's store for an Ulster fry breakfast and I could not help noticing the number of people on the street, and in the store, who greeted William Morton.

I also noticed that he made time to talk to them. It was clear that Dean Morton was liked and respected by everyone, and that he was truly a man of the people.

That is something which cannot be said of every cleric in high office, and of every denomination.

On Thursday this week, a couple of hours before he finally left to go to Dublin, I talked to Dean Morton by phone.

He said to me, "I've a big job ahead of me," and so he has.

However, I can think of no person better equipped to do it.

As he takes up the challenges of his high office in Dublin today, I - and his many friends everywhere - wish William and his family God's blessing for the huge tasks that lie ahead.

Belfast Telegraph

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