Dalradian refuses permission for Co Tyrone Mass Rock service

Francis Conway, Paul Holywood, Kieran Fox, Conor and Mary McGlinchey and Martin Haughey beside the Greencastle Mass Rock
Connla Young

A Canadian gold mining firm has refused to give permission for a service at a historical Mass rock on the site of a proposed mine processing plant in the Sperrin Mountains.

Local priest Fr John Forbes said he has written to Dalradian Gold asking for permission to say Mass at the site at Greencastle in Co Tyrone as part of the Catholic Church's Year of Mercy.

The Mass rock, which is in an area known as Crockanboy Hill, is believed to date back to the penal laws when Catholics were forced to practice their faith in secret.

Mass rocks hold a special place in the communities where they are located because of the religious persecution associated with them.

Fr Forbes said he was told about the Mass rock when he came to the area.

Set on an isolated hillside, over the years the large sacramental stone has been partially swallowed up by the undergrowth.

Details of the refusal to allow locals access to the rock emerged as Greencastle residents revealed plans to hold a ‘walking Rosary’ in the area this weekend.

Dalradian wants to build a processing plant at the site that will use the potentially toxic chemical cyanide to extract gold from ore that the firm intends to mine locally.

Some local people are opposed to both the mine and the proposed processing plant and fear that if authorities give permission for the plant the ancient Mass rock may be submerged in a pond.

A Dalradian map shows a pond in the area around the processing plant, which locals say will cover the Mass rock.

Fr Forbes, who is parish priest at Badoney Lower, said he wrote to the firm on behalf of himself and Fr Edward Gallagher, who is the parish priest in Greencastle.

Fr Forbes said the mining controversy has “caused difficulties within most parishes and divisions among people”.

He said he wanted to hold Mass at the site as part of the Year of Mercy, which was launched last year by Pope Francis and comes to an end next month.

“The whole idea was to have Mass there and have Mercy and invite both sides and pray publicly for both sides,” he said.

“We put this proposal to Dalradian and they seemed to have a difficulty at the beginning.”

The priest revealed that he contacted the firm a second time several months ago.

“We just wrote back to them again and said we want a simple answer, can we have Mass there or not?” he said.

“And if we can have it, lovely, and if we can’t we will respect your decision,”

Fr Forbes said he told the firm he would need “at least a month’s notice to get it organised”.

“We have never had a reply to that email,” he said.

Local resident Francis Conway said the Mass rock has traditionally been revered by local people.

“As a child, born, reared and currently living on the Crockanboy Road, we were always taught to respect and protect our land,” he said.

“The area on the Crockanboy Hill, where the Mass rock exits, was left unharmed, regardless of the need for turf banks and how the land was farmed.

“People down through the generations valued and took pride in their history, therefore we want this area remain untouched, for our future generations to come."

Meanwhile, residents from Greencastle and the surrounding area are planning to hold a walking Rosary close to the Mass rock this weekend.

The prayer walk has been organised by local woman Michelle Dennehy who said she does not want the “Rosary to be political”.

“I wanted it to bring some people together,” she said.

A spokeswoman for Dalradian said: "The Greencastle parish website indicates that there are three Mass Rocks in the parish.

"The diocesan office confirmed to us the information on the Greencastle parish website matched their records. None of these sites are on land controlled or owned by Dalradian. We have no evidence of a Mass Rock on land owned or controlled by us."

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