Clergyman and writer influenced by years in the army
Rev Matthew Byrne: Born November 16th, 1927; Died: August 2nd, 2013
The Very Rev Matthew Byrne, who has died aged 85
A gregarious man who chatted freely to friends and strangers alike, he was a lover of language, speaking English, Irish and a little French. He read ancient Greek, Latin and also Hebrew – knowledge and skills that enhanced all his accomplishments.
He was one of seven children – two boys and five girls – born to Irish parents, Patrick Joseph Byrne and Elizabeth Gray in 1927 in Salford, Lancashire. His father served with the British army in the trenches in France and later worked as a supervisor at the Dublin docks. Elizabeth was of Scottish extraction and was immersed in Celtic spirituality, on which Byrne’s own spirituality was modelled.
Before Byrne was a year old the family returned to Ireland. He attended Mountjoy School where he developed his lifelong love of the Irish language. His inclination to writing emerged early: while still a schoolboy, he would submit items to the Evening Mail newspaper, for which he was paid, and for the rest of his life he was to augment his clergy stipend with the proceeds of writing.
After school, he went to Tyndale Hall in Bristol (now Trinity, Bristol) to study theology, graduating in 1947 and was ordained four years later. In 1952, he married Weena (née Savage) and in time they had two children, Michael and Graine.
He served as a curate in Rawtenstall, a Lancashire cotton town, and was an army chaplain from 1954 to 1957, seeing active service in Kenya, Korea and Cyprus. He was deeply influenced by his years in the army and for the rest of his life was always ready with a thought-provoking story of the people, the places and the times.
It was during this period that he got a taste for radio with the forces radio broadcasting unit. Back in Britain, he became rector of St Margaret’s, in the Whalley Range area of Manchester and later of St James, in Moss Side.
He also became a freelance writer, presenter and producer with the BBC and ITV. He regularly contributed to Thought for the Day, the early morning slot on what used to be known as the Home Service, now Radio 4.
His popularity and powers of persuasion were such that he managed to arrange for members of the cast of Coronation Street to come to open special events at St Margaret’s Church where the wedding of the character Elsie Tanner was filmed.