Organist Ian Barber’s contribution to the life of Belfast Cathedral over 35 years was recognised at a special Choral Evensong in St Anne’s on Wednesday evening.

Ian was at the organ, and many warm tributes were paid to him following the service. Board Member Dr Michael Callender quoted the late Donald Davidson who had described Ian as ‘a musician to his fingertips.’

There was a good attendance at Choral Evensong with wonderful music from Ian, Master of the Choristers David Stevens, and the choir.

Dr Michael Callender pays tribute to Ian Barber following Wednesday’s choral Evensong.


Dean’s Vicar, the Rev Canon Mark Niblock, said: “I have only been in the Cathedral a short time but it has been a great privilege for me to work with Ian at regular services and also at special events which his playing has made extra special.

“Someone described Ian’s playing as ‘swimming in sound,’ that sums it up, he has that touch that makes you inhale the music.”

Mr Phillip Prosser presents a very unique gift to Mr Ian Barber.


Canon Niblock thanked Ian on behalf of present and past clergy for his ministry and his music, shared with the Cathedral and the people of Belfast City and beyond.

He read some words from former Dean John Mann and his wife Helen who said it had been a privilege to know Ian as an organist and a friend.

Dr Callender, a member of the Cathedral’s Music and Worship Committee, pointed out that Ian had been making music on ‘this quite ancient instrument’ for a full third of the life of the organ. He said Ian’s contribution to music in St Anne’s had been recognised when he was made an Associate of the Royal School of Church Music some years ago.

Ian is presented with a gift from Mrs Joan Thompson, representing the Friends of Belfast Cathedral.


He paid tribute to Ian’s steadfastness, the way nothing ever bothered him, and described him as ‘a musical fixed point in a world of change at St Anne’s.’

“With Ian, we got the impression that the organist plays anything, no matter how complex, but clear preparation was the key before both daily Evensong and great occasions, including playing for the Queen on her golden jubilee,” he said.

Dr Callender also paid tribute to Ian’s wife Jean, who faithfully turned the pages for him at every service. “We owe an immense debt of gratitude to Jean,” he said.

Ian with the certificate recognising him as Organist Emeritus at Belfast Cathedral.


There were also tributes from Mr Philip Prosser, a former Lay Clerk in the Choir, who presented Ian with a gift of a mounted organ pipe, and Mrs Joan Thompson made a presentation on behalf of the Friends of Belfast Cathedral.

The Bishop of Connor, the Rt Rev Alan Abernethy, quoted from John 1, describing Ian as ‘a man in whom there is no guile.’ He paid tribute to his ability, his humility and his incredible faithfulness.

The Bishop of Connor, the Rt Rev Alan Abernethy, paid tribute to Ian.

The Bishop said the Cathedral wished to honour Ian by making him Organist Emeritus and presented him with a Certificate and Medal.

In response Ian thanked the choir, the musicians and everyone present. He said much had happened in his time at St Anne’s and recalled services which particularly stood out for him, including the Kegworth Memorial Service, as well as happy Christmas and Easter times.

“Thank you to Jean because without her I could not have done this,” Ian said. “A page turner is a very demanding job, you have to concentrate, and Jean is wonderful in this respect.”

Chorister Meghan presents flowers to Ian’s wife Jean, who has turned his music pages faithfully for decades.


Ian said he had been organist in St Anne’s under four different Deans. “I feel very lucky to have been here and thank you for the opportunity you have given me,” he said.

Son of a Church of Ireland clergyman, Ian grew up in Holywood and attended Campbell College. He cut his teeth on the organ in the parish of St Philip and St James, and won a scholarship to the Royal School of Church Music. He progressed to the Royal College of Music in London and after graduation was made a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists (FRCO) with a choirmaster’s diploma.

He moved to Canada to play the organ in St Mark’s Church in Ottowa. After two years he went to the Bishops’ University in Quebec to take a Degree in Theology and Clergy Training and when he qualified he moved to St Catharine’s, Ontario, as an organist.

Ian addresses the congregation following the Choral Evensong on January 10 to celebrate his 35 years as organist at St Anne’s Cathedral.


Illness forced Ian to return to Holywood, and he was quickly snapped up by St Columb’s Cathedral in Londonderry as organist and choirmaster. After two years he moved to Ballywalter, and also taught at Victoria College and later Strathearn School, where he was Head of Music for 21 years.

In 1983 Ian was appointed assistant organist at St Anne’s Cathedral, a post he held until 2010 when he was recognised as organist and choirmaster. With the appointment of David Stevens as Master of the Choristers in April 2012 Ian resumed his role of organist.

In September 2014, the Cathedral’s new chamber organ was dedicated and named The Barber Organ in honour of Ian.

Ian in the seat at the organ he has played in St Anne’s for 35 years, his wife Jean at his side.