C. D. C. Armstrong writes:
THE Revd Samuel Niall Maurice Bayly (known as Niall), who died on
21 October, aged 77, spent all of his ministry as a priest of the
Church of Ireland in one city, Belfast, and one diocese, Connor. He
was, however, a native of what was then the Irish Free State, and,
even after almost half a century in Northern Ireland, he retained a
southern accent. He pursued, and in 2002 won, a case for unfair
dismissal against the Church of Ireland.
Niall Bayly was born in Tralee, the son of a bank manager; for
part of his childhood he experienced the peripatetic existence
expected of bank officials and their families in mid-century
Ireland. The Baylys lived in Limerick and Waterford, before
settling in Dublin. There, Niall was educated at the High School,
alma mater of, among others, W. B. Yeats. His time there was
unhappy and unprofitable: the school took no account of the hearing
problem that had been diagnosed in Niall when he was a small child;
exile to the back of the classroom made matters worse.
The welfare of those who shared his problem was to become one of
his causes. For a time, he chaired the Ulster Institute for the
After school, he worked on farms. But he felt called to the
ministry of the Church in which he had been baptised and raised.
Having secured the necessary qualifications, he matriculated at
Trinity College, Dublin, as a mature student, graduating in 1964.
Having come through a crisis of faith with the help of Archbishop
Michael Ramsey (who came as a missioner to Trinity while Niall was
an undergraduate), and having taken the Divinity Testimonium, he
was made deacon in 1965, for St Matthew's, Belfast.
After his ordination to the priesthood, Niall became a chaplain
to the Missions to Seamen in Belfast Port, and then curate of St
Peter's on the Antrim Road. In 1973, he was appointed to his only
incumbency, Christ Church, Belfast. His parish church was a fine
neo-classical building, built to minister to the industrial poor of
late Georgian Belfast, and had been opened with free pews. But by
the time of Niall's appointment, his parish, sandwiched between the
city centre and West Belfast, was declining in numbers; and the
building was to come under threat from dry rot.
The diocese wanted Christ Church to close; Niall strove to keep
it open. But he failed: the building was shut in 1993. Having
escaped the threat of demolition, it is now, after restoration by
the Belfast Buildings Preservation Trust, a library and computer
centre for the Royal Belfast Academical Institution. Nevertheless,
Niall remained in law Rector of the parish, even after the church
was closed. His stipend was cut off after a period, and, for some
years, his only income (apart from his own savings and investments)
was a small annual payment for a chaplaincy at the City
Eventually, Niall brought a case for unfair dismissal against
the Church of Ireland. In a statement made in the course of the
case, he complained that he had not been helped in his search for
another parish, and that parishes for which he had been interviewed
expected that he would officiate at Orange Order services - which
he refused to do on principle. In 2002, the case was settled in his
favour, out of court.
Niall never again held stipendiary office in the Church. For a
time, after the closure of Christ Church, he worshipped at
Fisherwick Presbyterian Church; perhaps this was, as the Revd Derek
McKelvey suggested in his funeral sermon, a quiet protest against
the treatment that he had received from his own denomination.
His enforced retirement was not inactive. A keen ecumenist, he
did pastoral work for Fisherwick and another Belfast Presbyerian
congregation, May Street. Eventually he was made an honorary
assistant priest at another Belfast parish with a Georgian
building, St George's on the High Street; he officiated there as
recently as this summer, and was at the choral eucharist there on
the day before he died; and his funeral was held there. Despite a
natural reserve, he always made an effort to speak to visitors
Music was Niall's abiding passion, greater perhaps even than his
interest in art. He had grown up in a musical household. He played
the piano and organ; he was for a time organist as well as Rector
of Christ Church, which necessitated his rushing from the prayer
desk or altar to the gallery where the organ was housed. He was
also a hymn-writer. One of his compositions was sung at his
As a teenager, he heard Kathleen Ferrier sing not long before
she died; as a young man he saw Malcolm Sargent conduct. While an
undergraduate he came to know Sir David Willcocks, during a
vacation job in East Anglia. Later in life, he became friendly with
Sir John Eliot Gardiner through membership of the Bach Network UK.
He was a familar figure at recitals of the Belfast Music Society,
and at Ulster Orchestra concerts, and was always punctilious in
thanking orchestra members for their performance.
Niall was an unassuming, wise, gracious, and principled man. His
Church might have made more use of his pastoral gifts and his
cultural interests. Even in old age, he was physically vigorous; so
his sudden death was unexpected and shocking. That he never married
was for him a source of much sadness.