OBITUARY: THE VERY REVD WILLIAM NORMAN COCHRANE BARR

by
15 December 2010

The Rt Revd Dr S. G. Poyntz writes:

THE Very Revd Norman Barr, who died on 19 November, aged 90, was educated at the King’s Hospital in Dublin. He graduated from Trinity College, Dublin, with a First Class Moderatorship in Mental and Moral Science. He continued his studies in the Divinity School, where he was awarded the Downes Prize in Liturgy, and the Pastoral Theology Prize, and left with a First Class Divinity Testi­monium. He undertook postgradu­ate studies at Cambridge, and later obtained his MA and BD from Dublin.

His first curacy was in the great parish of Ballymena and Ballyclug, from 1946 to 1952, where Frederick Julian Mitchell, who later became a bishop, was his Rector. He received pastoral training second to none. It stood him in good stead for his long ministry, entirely spent in the diocese of Connor.

In 1952, he joined the staff of St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast. Then 1954 brought his first incumbency, in the parish of Duneane and Ballyscullion, his marriage to Florence Cooper, and his appointment as Domestic Chap­lain to Bishop Elliott. He was Curate-in-Charge of Whitechurch, an emerg­­ing parish in north Belfast, before his long and distinguished incumbency of the historic parish of Derriaghy. Other honours lay ahead: Examining Chaplain to the Bishop of Connor, Rural Dean of Derriaghy, Prebendary of Cairncastle, and finally Dean of Connor from 1982 to his retirement. He was a repre­sentative of the diocese of Connor on the Stand­ing Com­mittee of the General Synod of the Church of Ireland.

A photograph shows him acting as Domestic Chaplain to Bishop Elliott at the consecration ceremony of St Andrew’s, Colin — a year or two before he became Rector of Derriaghy. He ministered to it in the best and worst of times, years of tur­bulence with moving popula­tions, especially in Colin and Twin­brook districts. At a small church hall in the Twinbrook estate, early in the 1970s a Sunday school had 100 children, and morn­ing service attracted 80 adults. Within a few years, the congregation dwindled to seven: the Unionist people felt, or were, in­timidated. Elsewhere, there was a comparable exodus of Nationalists from Unionist estates.

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On my arrival in the diocese in 1978, I heard of this phenomenon, and tried to visit such areas. On a pastoral visit to Derriaghy, I asked Norman, as Rector, to accompany me to see the district and the vacated building. We had hardly entered the estate when we found that we were being tailed by an IRA car. A trivial incident, but a reminder of the fears and tragedies of what is hopefully a bygone age, but still a vivid memory for many clergy and laity.

Family life was important in the Barr household. Norman, as Rector, was backed up by Florence, who presided at the organ for 20 years, and led a choir of 30 voices and a junior choir. The couple were blessed with two daughters; one predeceased her father, making them acquainted with personal grief.

Norman Barr used his scholarship to good effect, producing several publications relevant to the parish and district of Derriaghy. His mag­num opus was Clergy of Connor: From patrician times to the present day, revised and updated with his wife Florence and with Canon R. E. Turner in 1993. In 2006, we launched his final book, Derriaghy: A short history of the parish.

As Dean of Chapter of St Saviour’s, Connor, in Christ Church Cathedral, Lisburn, he oversaw the reordering of the sanctuary of the cathedral, and especially the preb­endal stalls and the Bishop’s throne. This work was completed just before his retirement. Many felt it to be a fitting tribute to his years as cus­todian of the chapter in the absence of the Bishop.

Norman was a very skilled person: seemingly, there was nothing mechan­ical that he could not put his hand to. He produced a device that enabled his lawn-mower, once set in motion, to cut the grass at the old rectory in ever widening or narrow­ing circles as required, permitting him to carry on with other gar­dening, or to work in his study. When I retired to live in Lisburn, Norman would often arrive at our home with his wonderful toolbox to solve elec­trical or other household problems.

It was Norman who installed me in Christ Church Cathedral when I was translated from Cork, Cloyne & Ross, and he became a mentor, con­fidant, and fellow worker in the dio­ceses. Shy and modest, kind and at­tractive, loyal and clever, he summed up all that was best in parochial ministry. His faith was rock-solid. Disciplined in his duties, thoroughly available, quietly spoken, and always properly dressed, he was a com­bination of gentleness and firmness.

The eucharist was central to his life, and he confessed that he felt nearer to God and the numinous at the 8 a.m. celebration of holy com­munion in Christ Church, with, among many empty pews, scattered worshippers who had come on foot or by bicycle, battling against wind, rain or snow to observe Christ’s command.

In the eventide of life, he let the warm-hearted, jovial, amusing man prevail over the dutiful decanal figure. When health began to decline, he amazed us by the way in which his vitality was sustained by faith, hope, and love.

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