Born in 1935 into a family of four children, some of Christopher Irven’s earliest memories were of the war years. His father was in the Army and after the war, so that he could get to know his own children and they him, he took them out of school to bring the entire family to Kenya where he had just begun a tour with the Kings African Rifles. After two years Christopher returned to England with his elder sister to go to boarding school, as the education afforded by the Irish missionaries in Nairobi was tough but sketchy. He was educated at Ampleforth College and, though recommended to read physics at Cambridge, was unable to do so because there was no family money left to support further education. In those days for all but the well heeled the pressing need was to start earning a living: there was no such thing as a gap year, student loans or free university tuition. So, on leaving school Irven went straight into the Army at four shillings a day and, after basic training, to Sandhurst before commissioning. The whole Army process was an education, and in its way a good one. Throughout his life an officer was expected to master a wide range of skills and knowledge to fit him for a mapped-out career. Weapons technology was being constantly stimulated by the Cold War arms race, and for Irven this led to a master’s degree course at the Royal Military College of Science. He served in the UK, in Germany, and the Far East where he saw active service in Borneo, and finally the first Gulf War. As a young captain he married Molly in 1961 and they brought up seven children in the close ‘regimental family’ setting of Army life.
On leaving the Army, they bought a house in Gillingham in Dorset. There he involved himself in the local Catholic parish; in charity work; in teaching theology, higher mathematics and physics; and domestic electrical wiring. He also got involved in broadcasting on the local radio, one of a team doing Thoughts for the Day, until the new owners of the radio station decided they “didn’t do God” and dropped the programme.
While on holiday in Rhodes with his wife and two of the children, he was involved in a life-changing experience. He sustained major injuries when hit by a truck while crossing the road, leading to two months in hospital and two months’ rehabilitation – during which he was found to have leukaemia contracted from poisoning in the first Gulf War. Once recovered, he decided to take full control of his own health by cycling nearly 2000 miles alone from Lands End to John O’Groats and back, sleeping rough. This worked, and he returned to one of the loves of his youth, alpine mountaineering. But his cycling “pilgrimage” had got under his skin, and to date he has done two more – a second one of 1000 miles in Spain with a friend, and the third of over 2000 miles alone through France and the Pyrenees. He prefers travelling alone as it gives him time to think: 8 hours and 73 miles every day, through constantly changing climate, scenery and challenges. Two years ago he suffered a minor stroke but rapidly recovered, and learnt to paraglide in the French Alps later that year. Recently, at the age of 72 he became the oldest man by 10 years to climb Mount Kenya, 16,400 feet in three days. His continuing enthusiasm for extreme sports included a bungee jump, and in the face of such disregard his leukaemia seems to have given up the struggle for supremacy, at least for the time being.
Intellectually, from a very young age he had been consumed by a penetrating curiosity into the nature of things. As a boy this showed itself in experiments in things mechanical, electrical and explosive. Later, he became absorbed in powerful hunting bows with a cast of 350 yards, and at about that time developed a devouring interest in theoretical physics and cosmology, branching into the philosophy of science. In the last 20 years these disparate threads have been drawn together in a critical exploration of Christian theology. This latter development, backed by the experiences of a varied and colourful life, led him to write three books. The first sank without trace shortly after being published when Minerva Press was acquired and declared bankrupt by the new owner. But undaunted, he rewrote the subject matter into two books, in the light of his own developing theological insights which give his writing a fresh, challenging and very moving approach ‘outside the box’ of traditional religious devotions.
Irven is also a watercolour artist, loves classical music, and is devoted to his wife and growing family which now numbers 20 grandchildren.