By Sarah Mac Donald - 21 July, 2013
A landmark Catholic Church in Co Antrim, which was the subject of a campaign of intimidation by Loyalist protestors in the 1990s, is to be demolished.
Our Lady’s Church on the Larne Road in Ballymena was closed in February 2012 and its congregation moved to Crebilly Church while an assessment was carried out on its structural viability.
A leaking roof and other difficulties such as dangerous electrics were examined from a health and safety point of view and local clergy say the cost of remedying the church’s problems is estimated to be in the region of £65,000.
According to Fr Paddy Delargy, parish priest, making the church safe again and repairing the leaking roof and damaged electrics is “unviable”.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, he said that the decision to demolish the church, which was opened in 1968, took into account the future local needs of the parish community.
A statement on behalf of the Ballymena parish said that the long-standing problem of leaks had never been “fully resolved”.
“For some time now the building has been unsafe”, the statement continued. “Now, because of the damage to the roof and the building and the consequent risk of electrical failure, the cost of repair would be prohibitive.”
Of the closure of the church permanently and the plans to demolish it, the statement explained, “This decision has naturally been taken with regret on account of the fond memories and strong attachments that we all naturally have to a church building.”
Our Lady’s Church in Harryville was the target of loyalist protests in the 1990s when it was subject to arson and paint attacks.
These loyalist demonstrations, notably in 1996, were a response to nationalist objections to an Orange Order parade in the nearby village of Dunloy.
According to Fr Delargy, “The problems in the 1990s are a remote cause of its closure, but only because the Catholic population evaporated from that area of town. It is a beautiful church… but the repairs would not be the best way to invest our money.”
The demonstrations came to an end after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
Fr Delargy told the Belfast Telegraph, “There just aren’t as many priests available and I see that as a positive way of involving more lay people in the work of the Church,” he said.
“It was extremely difficult to take a decision to close a church but it was taken after careful consideration about where our future investment is most needed, including putting our attention to a group working for the care of people with addiction.”
By Sarah Mac Donald