Northern Ireland

St Columb’s Cathedral campanologist Aubrey Fielding lived every day of his 92 years to the full

Aubrey Fielding rings the bells at St Columb's Cathedral, Derry
Aubrey Fielding rings the bells at St Columb's Cathedral, Derry in preparation for the coronation of King Charles last year in an interview with UTV

Aubrey Dukes Fielding, who died on Tuesday, was famed for his skill as a campanologist at St Columb’s Church of Ireland Cathedral in Derry.

However, bell ringing was only one part of a life that he lived at breakneck speed. In his 92 years, Aubrey approached every day as if it was his last.

Born at Fountain Street, in the shadow of the cathedral, that great post-Reformation institution would loom large in every aspect of his life.

The Very Rev Dr William Morton, the present Dean of Derry, has served at St Columb’s Cathedral in the city since 1997
Aubrey Fielding was born in the shadow of St Columb's Cathedral in Derry and it loomed large throughout his life

At the age of five, Aubrey decided he wanted to join the choir but was turned down after the choirmaster jokingly asked him if he was married.

Undeterred, he returned the following year, starting an involvement that was to last for the next 84 years as he went on to develop a fine alto voice. He served under 10 organists and loved to regale fellow choristers with tales about each of them.

He also worked in the cathedral Men’s Society, the Young People’s Vestry and as churchwarden. He served as parish reader, taking Thursday and Friday services. In fact, with his old friend Michael Joyce, he read Matins at morning worship in the week after Christmas.

He joined the team of bell ringers in the belfry in 1948 and was still ringing 76 years later, until just a few weeks ago

A member of St John’s Ambulance in the 1950s, he was also a member of the cathedral cubs and scouts. Aubrey could still get into his old scout shirt; it was family lore that he never threw anything away. He belonged to that generation which embraced the philosophy “You don’t know the value of it until you need it”.

But it was as a campanologist at St Columb’s that Aubrey became publicly known.

He joined the team of bell ringers in the belfry in 1948 and was still ringing 76 years later, until just a few weeks ago. As leader, he had 37 pupils learning to ring. As recently as Christmas, he had been planning to chime carols on the Carillion and had some of them printed in large black type for the occasion.

Aubrey Fielding passed away on January 16.
Aubrey Fielding passed away on January 16

The bells were last rung for the king’s coronation and broadcast on television last May. Aubrey, who received an MBE, also rang in Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953.

And if all that wasn’t enough, in 1987 he started working with the Derry Rural Deanery Youth Project, creating a digital database of cathedral births, deaths and marriages.

In a packed life, Aubrey served on the board of Derry Youth and Community Workshop, as president of Probus and still found time for sport. He played hockey – again for the cathedral teams – and ran in Northern Ireland athletic events. It was a source of great pride that his eldest grandson, Christopher, was chosen to represent Northern Ireland in athletics just this month.

Aubrey was one of the best known men in his native Derry. He spent his working life in the city’s legendary shirt factories, becoming manager in Rosemount factory.

It was through his work that he met Elizabeth, the love of his life. First and foremost a family man, they enjoyed a marriage spanning 57 years and had four sons and eight grandchildren.

Each Friday, Aubrey was collected by Robert McGonigle for coffee, scones and a chat about world affairs and his beloved St Columb’s. He also enjoyed a “wee run” to Muff Glen and the banks of Lough Foyle.

Robert recalled a loyal and warm friend who had a long and varied life.

“Aubrey was highly respected by the many people who had the pleasure of knowing him in his professional and personal life. He was gentlemanly and genuinely friendly; he always made a lasting impression. We’ll all fondly remember him.”