Bishop Richard Clarke has been named as the new Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of the Church of Ireland, succeeding Dr Alan Harper who retired last month.

63-year-old Dr Clarke, the first southern Primate in over 40 years, was chosen by the 11-strong House of Bishops.

When he is enthroned as Primate and Archbishop of Armagh in December he will move across the border from the diocese of Meath and Kildare, where he has been bishop for 16 years.

The Catholic Church’s Cardinal Seán Brady was one of the first to congratulate Dr Clarke, describing him as “a person of great wisdom, gentleness and kindness.”

Bishop Clarke, a widower with two children and one grandchild, has recently completed a term as President of the Irish Council of Churches, which comprises representatives of all the island's main Christian denominations with the exception of the Catholic Church.

Making the announcement in Belfast's St Anne's Cathedral, the Archbishop designate said: “I would like first to express my sincere gratitude for the huge trust that my fellow-bishops have placed in me by appointing me to the Archbishopric of Armagh.

“I truly feel neither worthy of the heritage into which I am to enter nor adequate for the tasks that lie ahead.

“All I can pledge is that I will give this task the very best of which I am capable, and the prayer of all of us must be that God in his grace will enable some good to come from this.”

The House of Bishops decided that his election would take effect from 15 December, which will be the date of his enthronement in St Patrick's Church of Ireland Cathedral in Armagh.