Destruction at Connemara church ‘not sectarian’

Attack at Holy Trinity Church which caused €70,000 worth of damage blamed on juveniles

The vandalism at Errislannan Church of Ireland near Clifden. A GoFundMe online campaign has already raised over €20,000 towards repairs at the church.

The vandalism at Errislannan Church of Ireland near Clifden. A GoFundMe online campaign has already raised over €20,000 towards repairs at the church.

 

The destruction at Holy Trinity Church on the remote Errislannan peninsula in Connemara last month was “definitely not sectarian”, its rector Canon Stan Evans has said.

Up to €70,000 worth of damage was done to the rural Co Galway church. The interior was ruined, with windows smashed and electrical fixtures ripped out of the walls. The pulpit, pews and organ were destroyed, and the large church bible flung out through the east-end window.

Canon Evans said the indications were that the perpetrators were juveniles.

He has been heartened by the hugely positive local response which has come from “right across the community, including the Muslims in Galway.”

Last June a window in Galway’s Masjid Maryam mosque was smashed by youths throwing stones as about 100 people gathered inside for Ramadan prayers.

Leaders of Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian and Quaker congregations in the city condemned the incident in a joint statement.

‘Messages of support’

The response following the vandalism at Holy Trinity church was “a wonderful example of ecumenism”, Canon Evans said. “We have been quite uplifted by all the messages of support.”

A GoFundMe online campaign has already raised over €20,000 towards repairs at the church, he said. “We’ll be up and running again by 2018,” he said.

The consensus across the major churches in Ireland is that sporadic attacks on church buildings in recent years, particularly those in the Republic, do not conform to any pattern or suggest an agenda.

Among churches recently damaged in attacks was St Michael’s Catholic Church at Shroid in Longford parish on Easter Sunday last. Thieves broke stained-glass windows and smashed the plinth that contained its tabernacle.

St Michael’s, like the Connemara church, is not in regular use.

St Patrick’s Catholic Church on Donegall Street in Belfast suffered two arson attacks this year in January and April.

Stewartstown Baptist Hall in Co Tyrone was petrol-bombed last July, while Saintfield Road Presbyterian Church in Belfast experienced two arson attacks in July of last year.

Generally, attacks on Northern Ireland Protestant churches and halls in July of any year tend to be sectarian and related to the Orange Order marching season.

Last month, the Church of Ireland’s Christ Church in Derry was badly damaged by vandals, who urinated and defecated inside. A stained-glass window was broken and the church organ damaged.

‘Disenchantment with life’

Church of Ireland press officer Paul Harron said, “the feeling is that it was local guys, possibly involving drugs and a general disenchantment with life.”

Mr Harron said he was not aware of a “pattern” when it came to such attacks on churches, “but really that is a question for a sociologist.”

It was also the case that footfall was low where a lot of Church of Ireland buildings were concerned, meaning they were empty for lengthy periods, he said.

Mark Smith, press officer for the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, said he had “no awareness of anything other than ordinary security” being put in place for Presbyterian churches.

Martin Long, director of the Catholic Communications Office in Maynooth, said there were “not many” attacks on Catholic churches in the Republic while there was probably a sectarian element in attacks on Catholic Churches in Northern Ireland.

There too, however, “the main concern would be about robberies and attacks on elderly clergy” rather than churches.

No new security arrangements were being put in place, he said.

Annette O’Donnell, communications director for Dublin’s Catholic archdiocese, recalled four attacks on Catholic churches there over recent years – at St Catherine’s on Meath Street and St Agnes’s in Crumlin Rush, as well as churches in Rush, Co Dublin and in Wicklow.