The retirement of Archbishop Richard Clarke as Church of Ireland Primate in the New Year has led to speculation on who will succeed the 70-year-old Dublin prelate in the Armagh diocese.
Reliable sources in Church of Ireland circles believe the choice would likely be between two current Ulster-born bishops - Dr Michael Jackson, archbishop of Dublin, and the Rev John McDowell, bishop of Clogher.
Dr Jackson 63, is a Ballinamallard, Co Fermanagh man, educated at Portora Royal school, and the Rev McDowell, 64, a Belfast man educated at Annadale Grammar School
Dr Clarke stands down as primate on February 2 and, after that date, the Church of Ireland House of Bishops will consider the selection of a successor.
A senior Church of Ireland cleric, while underscoring the theological merits and leadership qualities of both Michael Jackson, and John McDowell, 64, said the church was fortunate in having “a good choice” from within its 12-member House of Bishops.
Another contender might be the Rev Dr Kenneth Kearon, bishop of Limerick. Dr Kearon 66, is a son-in-law of a former bishop of Connor in Belfast, the Rev Dr Samuel Poyntz, and served at a senior level in the Church of England.
An Ulster-born primate would be popular in a church whose 350,000 membership is two-thirds located in Northern Ireland parishes.
Another who could be considered is the Rev Pat Storey, 59, bishop of Limerick and former rector of St Augustine’s Church, Londonderry. However, the election of a first female primate in Irish Anglican history would probably be much too radical a step to take.
The last Northern Ireland-born cleric to serve as primate was the Rev Dr Robin Eames, who was in Armagh for 20 years from 1886 to 2006, with his popular ministry covering a significant period of the Troubles. He was succeeded by English-born the Rev Alan Harper, primate for six years until 2012. Archbishop Clarke will be eight years in post when he retires.
At present, two Ulster dioceses will shortly instal new bishops - Rev Andrew Forster to Derry and Raphoe and Rev David McClay to Down and Dromore. In Connor diocese, which covers Co Antrim, Bishop Alan Abernethy retires shortly due to ill-health.