With under a week until he and his wife take up residence in Dublin, Earl Storey is in a reflective mood as he recalls the last 10 years in Londonderry.
The soon-to-be husband to Ireland’s first female Bishop, Earl says he has spent “10 interesting years” in Londonderry.
“It has been interesting from a lot of angles. It has been interesting to live in a city where different communities live cheek by jowl with one another, and I suppose what has been most interesting is being able to engage with people from communities that I might not have otherwise been able to have engaged with. That has been my favourite part of my time here,” he said.
A clergyman in his own right, Earl never actually served as a rector in a church in the city, although he was rector on the outer edges of Dublin: “I was a rector for 10 years there, but not here in Derry.”
Hugely supportive of his wife, Pat, who will be installed as Bishop of Meath and Kildare in a few days, Earl said: “Pat was very nervous about the prospect, because it really did come out of the blue. I was less nervous because I thought ‘yeah, I think she’s got the skill, I think she’s got the confidence and the strength to do it’. So I am excited for her, I am genuinely excited for her. I am thrilled for her actually. It is obviously going to be a big upheaval for her.
“Our daughter Carolyn is married to Peter Smith here in the city, so that is going to be a bit of an upheaval moving a big distance away from her. Our son Luke is away working now, so it will just be the two of us, rattling around in Maynooth on the western edges of Dublin, living just half a mile or a mile outside Maynooth,” he said.
“We both studied in Dublin and that’s where we met and I had been a rector in Dublin for 10 years, so it is not going to be very different territory, if you like,” he said.
From a point of view of work, Earl will not be severing all ties with Londonderry.
“The question of work was one of the big questions we had to think through, because Pat was offered the position on a Thursday evening and we needed to talk between ourselves before she accepted the post.
“There were two questions, one was ‘did she feel that it was right for her? And, I suppose, the other question was ‘How was it going to work for me?’ A lot of my work is in Northern Ireland, although I have done work in Dublin and I also have a very good friend who is a work colleague in Dublin, so the big question for me was I had to decide ‘Did I have the energy and the drive to basically get new customers and keep Top Storey going?’ The answer to that was ‘Yes. I do have the energy and drive’. So I am still, for the time being I am still going to do communication and press work for the Diocese, and I have various other contracts in Northern Ireland which I am, hopefully, going to hold onto.”
Under those circumstances Earl will not have to completely cut his ties with the city, and will be able to maintain a strong bond with his daughter. There will be other people in the city who will also be glad to learn that Earl will continue to visit, as he has become very much ‘part of the furniture’ here.
“Everybody says this when they are leaving, that it was a great place to live, but, actually, Derry has been a great place to live. It has been an interesting place to live and a good place for us as a family.”
“It is a complicated place to live, but it is complicated because Northern Ireland is a complicated place to live,” he said.
Asked what he was looking forward to moving back to Dublin, Earl said it would be to see what his business looked like in the city.
“Most looking forward to the challenge and I am also scared of the challenge of the unknown and seeing if you can make something happen. So that is both exciting and scary, but it is more exciting than frightening. When I started up my own business four or five years ago, I remember saying to anybody that would listen that this was the scariest thing I have ever done, but it was also the most fun thing I have every done in my life. Yeah, I am looking forward to the fun, but I am also nervous of the unknown,” he said.
Two-and-a-half years ago Earl suffered a stroke while on holiday in Scotland with his wife, but to the outside he seemed to have sailed back to health remarkably quickly.
“It knocked the stuffing out of me to be honest, for a while. I suppose being self-employed, you realise you have got to keep working and I wanted to keep working, so it was a tough challenge. The big effect of the stroke was that it affected my confidence in my ability.
“I remember what happened vividly. We were on holiday in Edinburgh and Pat and I had gone to do different things, and basically I found myself going into shops and walking down the street walking into things and walls, knocking stuff over in shops and I hadn’t a clue what was happening. I just began to get confused and still did not realise what was happening. Then I met up with Pat and she saw my face had drooped, realised immediately what had happened and got an ambulance and it was straight to hospital.
“It is funny, I have never worried about my health, and I still don’t, bizarrely. I think it was more difficult for Pat – she had a lot more to contend with. So I came back after that and I was off work for probably for about six weeks. Possibly I went back to work too quickly, I don’t know. It has been a fight, but a fight I have come out of it stronger. Looking back, it has been the most difficult two years of my life, but it has left me a lot stronger and a lot more comfortable in my own skin. It is not an experience I would care to repeat, but I am still standing and still fighting.”
Running his own business is important to Earl because of the challenge and excitement and he admits he still gets a buzz from running his own company.
“I have had four good years, in the main it has been a lot of fun and my plan is to let the fun continue. My greatest passion is not even running my own business, but the whole issue of reconciliation. That is why I got involved in politics a few years ago. I thought I could work in reconciliation in that way.”
Asked if he thought that was part of him missing his career as a minister, Earl said: “I had actually back in 2003 written a book on the relationship between the Church of Ireland and the Orange Order, and it was during the process of writing the book that I looked at the relationship between religion and politics and I am just very strongly of the opinion that they should be separate.
“My journey towards reconciliation actually started when I was a Rector in Dublin, in St James’ in Crinken, and I just began to get more and more of a sense of a ‘calling’ that this was what I needed to do, especially as a Christian, to get involved in reconciliation as a Christian. People work out their Christian faith in a whole variety of different ways and for me that was the way. That’s why I got involved. While I was in Dublin, I did a Masters in Peace Studies and then decided to move north and I worked for a Christian Peace Organisation for a couple of years, ECOLI. Then I went back to being a Rector at Glenavy and it was during that time that I wrote the book and that’s when I began to think that you either just shout at the TV all the time or you actually do something, and that’s when I decided I would join a political party. There is no regulation in the church that says you have to, but I thought for my own point on principle, I thought I needed to go off and earn my living doing something different. I worked for a couple of organisations in Derry, one of them being Cresco, and I have to say working there was one of the happiest places I have worked. It was a great experience actually. Then a job came up with the Hard Gospel Project back in 2005 – the Church of Ireland project to address sectarianism – and I left the political party I had been involved in, and to keep the Church and politics separate, I have not been involved since.
“I have a lot of admiration for anyone involved in politics. I think they get a hard time. I remember when I stood for election that there was a way to votes and a way to political power and to be honest I thought ‘I’m just not going to do that’. I did not have any political career to lose, and that is not a comment on any of the other candidates. It is more a comment on politics in general in Northern Ireland,” he said.
For now, Earl is up to his elbows in cardboard boxes, newspapers preparing himself for a new story in the life of the Storey family.
Asked if he could wish one thing for the people of Londonderry, he said: “I think Derry is on a journey. I think it is on a really interesting journey and I suppose it is that people on all sides of the community are actually committed to a relationship with each other whether they want to or not. We have got to find a way of living together.
“I think various people in the city have done remarkable work, I think the Loyal Orders have and people on all sides of the parades issue have done really remarkable, courageous, work and they have to be commended for that. I think my wish for the city, there is no silver bullet for reconciliation, it is just always believing the future is going to be better, that it can be better and just never giving up.
“One of my favourite quotes is by Peter Drucker– ‘The best way to predict the future is to create it’. I think genuinely the city is on a journey, and it will create a future that is different from the past.”