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29 November 2013

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 Deaf.

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 Hospital.

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 after services.

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 funeral.

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.

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