Departing Dean of Derry leaves behind a changed city

The Very Reverend William Morton is leaving Londonderry to take over as Dean and Ordinary of St Patricks Cathedral in Dublin
The Very Reverend William Morton is leaving Londonderry to take over as Dean and Ordinary of St Patricks Cathedral in Dublin

The Dean of St Columb’s Cathedral, Rev William Morton, has spoken fondly of his time in Londonderry as he prepares to set off for Dublin where he will take on one of the most important roles in the Church of Ireland.

The Very Reverend Dr Morton will take over as the Dean and Ordinary of St Patrick’s Cathedral.

Dean Morton spoke of the warmth of the people and the many changes he has witnessed during his time in Northern Ireland’s second city during an interview with the News Letter.

He said: “We first arrived here to minister and to serve in the church which is the mother church of the diocese – St Columb’s Cathedral or Derry Cathedral to use the ancient name of it. I was immediately awe struck by the sense of the history of the place and all that it has witnessed as a building – it has been here since 1633.

“It has really witnessed God’s presence and love through all of those years, many of which have been difficult. We tend to speak of the Troubles but we can go all the way back to the Siege.

“What can have been more dreadful than the Siege? Tens of thousands of people perished in the Siege here and people took refuge in the cathedral. There was great sanctity and safety in the cathedral here.

“Of course there have also been major difficulties over all the years – hard times, poverty and, of course, the Troubles. That had a massive impact on the cathedral congregation because people who had been born here, brought up here, who had gone to school here and who had came up through the cathedral here in terms of their Christian nurture found they had to flee for their safety. Once they left, they remained there. The Fountain area is still here but it is nothing like what it must have been like.

“I think it’s very encouraging here that we have moved from a situation of immense conflict to much greater peace and harmony in the city. One of the first services that I had was in early December in 1997. It was a service for the shutting of the gates. On that occasion, after the service, I came down to the Deanery and I happened to be on my own. About two hours later, there were cars burning in rioting that followed the parade, just a couple of hundred metres away from where I was sitting.

“I thought ‘this cannot go on’. In a small way I was delighted that through various key people, including Garbhan O’Doherty and William Hay who is now Lord Hay of Ballyore, people began to maybe listen and began to know people from a different sort of political and cultural scene. Through that, there was a very successful outcome and in many ways, the city led Northern Ireland in a sense.

“One of the things I will take away from this place will be the warmth and overwhelming kindness shown to me by the people.”