AT the mature age of 66, Irvine Grey concedes that he may have lived life in reverse! He has just graduated with his third university degree - including two Masters - within the past eight years.
And right now, he’s negotiating to begin a PhD - in Kenya of all places.
The Bleary man, who ran Medimoneycare in High Street in Lurgan for almost 30 years, landed his third degree a few weeks ago. His Master of Philosophy Degree (Queen’s University, Belfast) was awarded for his research thesis into the history, sociology and theology of a religious movement started in Tipperary by William Irvine and Edward Cooney in 1897.
Said Irvine, “They refused to have a label, although they are known as ‘Two-by-Two’, based on Jesus having told his disciples to go out and preach ‘two by two’. They are also known as “The Cooneyites” after Edward Cooney, whom Irvine actually met in 1959, when Cooney was 90. There are about 4,000 followers throughout Ireland, with Lurgan, Portadown and Richhill among the most ardent areas.”
Cooney had a fateful visit to Lurgan in 1928 when he was excommunicated by fellow members at a meeting in the home of Andrew Knox at Cornakinnegar.
Irvine’s other two degrees are Bachelor of Theology studies through Queen’s (2004-08) and Masters in Missions (Manchester University 2008-12) after which he embarked on the Master of Philosophy. And now, thanks to travelling out to Kenya on a teaching project with his sons David and Simon (both students at the Irish Baptist College), his next aspiration is a doctorate in a rather unusual - and controversial - subject. “It’s on the dangers of the so-called health, wealth and prosperity gospel preachers,” said Irvine. “People will know them better as the shyster preachers on American television - many untrained but with the gift of the gab - who gull the viewers into sending generous donations, promising them unknown prosperity if they give to these dubious TV missions.”
He added, “It’s bad enough in America. But they follow their evil work in Kenya, where you have to see the poverty to believe it. Yet, these so-called evangelists live in luxurious apartments on the Indian Ocean coast of Kenya while the people are dirt poor. It’ll make a fascinating study.”
All his studies have been Christian orientated, and this particular chapter of his life has been different from the rest, although Irvine’s work and professional life thus far has been diverse and eclectic since he left the now defunct Duke of Westminster School in Fermanagh, close to his home village of Killadeas.
His first career stop was at Greenmount Agricultural College, near Antrim, and with his first qualification under his arm, he joined the veterinary division of the Ministry of Agriculture. He then entered the research division, followed by a sales position in the marketing division of the giant firm of John Thompson’s. The year 1974 was a key one in his life. He came to Craigavon as the PR of the giant rubber company Goodyear, which was trumpeted as the industrial foundation of the new city of Craigavon, but which closed in 1981.
Irvine also met his future wife on holiday in Benidorm in 1974 - Ingvor came from Jonkoping in Sweden - and they were married two years later in her home town. As well as their two sons, they have two daughters - Fiona Greenfield, a nurse in Craigavon Area Hospital and Lynda Mawhinney, a stay-at-home mum and there are five grandchildren. His son David married Carrie in Tennessee last Friday.
In the meantime, Irvine had a plethora of jobs - as a PR consultant with a Dublin firm, in sales with Canada Life Insurance in Belfast, and in 1982, he started his own financial firm in Lurgan - Medimoneycare - which has since been bought over by Legacy Wealth (Belfast) and for which he works as a consultant two days a week.
Through all the change, though, the Greys remained in Bleary as Irvine built the family home there and “loved it and saw no reason to move”.
The study bug hit with the turn of the millennium, and with the sons going to Kenya for a spell last year as volunteer teachers, dad thought it sounded like a good idea, went with them, and he fell in love with the place, tinged with a real compassion for the poverty of the people.
“I plan further visits and am confident the PhD will materialise,” he said. “The injustice of the greedy evangelists really angered me and I’ll be putting all I have into this project. How anyone can exploit the crushing poverty and yet live in luxury is infuriating. It’s a mockery of every principle of Christianity.”