I was so sorry to hear about the death on January 10th of Brian Hannon, former anglican Bishop of Clogher.
I imagine that growing up, especially in his late teens, Neil Hannon must have got pretty annoyed at being called the minister’s son. I wonder, 10 years later, whether Rev Brian Hannon ever got used to be known as Neil Hannon’s father.
I’m a minister like Brian Hannon but I am known more for being a rock fan so it will be a surprise that I actually met Bishop Hannon first and have spent a longer time with him.
I did eventually meet Neil. It was that amazing gig to reopen the Ulster Hall in 2009. Called, Remember The First Time, Northern Ireland finest did one of their own songs and a cover of the first band they actually went to see in the Ulster Hall.
I was standing in the crowd beside my friends Peter Wilson and Paul Wilkinson when I realised that their other friend was Neil Hannon! It was a perfect position to be in when The Lowly Knights introduced their cover, Divine Comedy’s Something For `The Weekend. “Great writer”, says I for effect. Neil almost fist pumped in contrived comedic glee.
It was Brian Hannon that I got to spend most time with. I was given the honour of being invited to speak at Monaghan Collegiate Prize Day. I had no idea that the Chairman of the Board of Governors was Brian Hannon, Bishop of Clogher. On the journey from the school to lunch in a nearby hotel I was driven by the Bishop.
Those who know me will know that for this particular clergyman to be thrown to such a situation was much more challenging than it would have been if Mr Divine Comedy himself had been my chauffeur.
I am reckoning it must have been late 1998 because as I got into the car the first two things I spied were cassettes of Fin de Siècle and A Short Album About Love.
I immediately confessed to the Bishop that we had something in common. I was a fan of his son. He then shared with me various things about the music industry, the press, Neil and himself.
He spoke about the press and the record company and a Bishop whose son was writing singles called Generation Sex! It was ripe for difficulties at many levels! He knew he needed to be onto the lyrics before a tabloid journalist would phone up looking a headline. The Record Company were always trying to appease the lyrics but Bishop Hannon got their weighty thoughtfulness.
He shared with me how he had a recent concert gone back stage and met Tori Amos and her band. Later he had told Neil how wonderful and normal they were, to which Neil shrugged and responded, “What did you expect Dad?” His son’s vocation was opening the Bishop up and he was so prepared to admit his mistakes, prejudices and need for learning.
He also shared a TV moment that had moved both of us just a short time before. Neil was performing live own BBC Northern Ireland’s Across The Line. To do something special he sang the old hymn Dear Lord And Father Of Mankind. I couldn’t believe it at the time. It was beautiful and poignant. The Bishop and his wife Maeve were very moved. Neil would later write an Oratorio with organ, strings and a choir entitled To Our Fathers In Distress and inspired by his father’s battle with Alzheimers.
Speaking of Neil’s faith the Bishop said that he would tell him he was agnostic but after most of their chats the Bishop added with that mischievous humility, that I was so charmed by. that he was probably no more agnostic than the Bishop was at times himself!
I found Bishop Brian Hannon to be a warm and gracious man, humble and open. Open, not only to me or to his son’s career but to himself. He was a Bishop in his early 60s whereas I was a young University Chaplain in my late 30s. His honesty near confession of what he was learning left an indelible mark on me. I regret not asking to come and spend more time with him.
I treasure that lunch so much. As I looked back this morning I wondered if I had missed something else. Bishop Hannon’s reading of others. When he introduced me to his wife at the lunch table, he introduced me as “Steve, a fan of our son Neil.” He had picked up the fulness of Stockman in a short car journey - not so much Rev as Divine Comedy fan!
Today, my prayers and good wishes go to Maeve, Neil and Bishop Hannon’s other sons Desmond and Brendan.