Northern Ireland

Priest tells of shock at Ballymoney church arson attack

A parish priest has spoke of his shock that his Co Antrim church was targeted in an arson attack.

A side door at Our Lady and St Patrick's Catholic Church in Ballymoney was set alight on Sunday at around 9.45pm.

The fire at the church in the Castle Street area was extinguished by parish priest Fr Damian McCaughan before the police arrived at the scene.

Fr McCaughan said he was alerted when the fire alarm went off.

"I went to have a look to see what was going on," he told the Press Association.

"I discovered a fire had been set on the outside of the door.

"It was just about to take hold, I was able to extinguish it. It did a bit of damage but we were able to catch it in time.

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"Obviously we are concerned at what has happened and why someone would do it."

Fr McCaughan said a wooden log covered in a propellant had been laid against the door.

"It is a lovely church and we are very proud of it so I didn't want it to be damaged any more than it had been," he added.

"I gave the log a kick and then I got a bucket of water and threw it over the door to stop it burning.

"The police came out very quickly, they have put out an appeal. We will see what happens.

"We will make our repairs and keep going."

The fire was started at a side door of the church. Picture by Ballymoney & Derrykeighan Catholic Parish/ Facebook
The fire was started at a side door of the church. Picture by Ballymoney & Derrykeighan Catholic Parish/ Facebook The fire was started at a side door of the church. Picture by Ballymoney & Derrykeighan Catholic Parish/ Facebook

Asked why he believed the church had been targeted, the priest said: "I don't know, we don't have much trouble up here.

"It is a quiet part of town and lots of people come to visit the church, to walk their dog or visit the graveyard.

"We have never had trouble or anti-social behaviour, so I really don't know who would have gone to the trouble of setting a fire here. I'll leave that with the police.

"In the time I have been here, we have never had any trouble.

"Relations are good in the town between churches and communities so I am very surprised by this."

In a post on the church social media page earlier on Monday, it had said the "fire was started deliberately outside the doors of the old entrance at the back of the church".

"Luckily our guardian angel looked after us and the fire was quickly picked up by the alarms."

The church thanked the police for attending and encouraged anyone with information to come forward.

Sinn Féin MLA Philip McGuigan appealed for anyone with information on the attack to come forward.

“I unreservedly condemn the attack on a church in the Castle Street area of Ballymoney on Sunday," he said.

Sinn Féin MLA Philip McGuigan. Picture by Hugh Russell
Sinn Féin MLA Philip McGuigan. Picture by Hugh Russell Sinn Féin MLA Philip McGuigan. Picture by Hugh Russell

“Damage was caused to the door as a result of the fire but thankfully the fire was extinguished quickly. 

“Police are investigating what happened as a deliberate arson attack.

"I would appeal to anyone with information about this attack to report it to the PSNI."

A PSNI spokesperson also said: "Some damage was caused to the door as a result of the fire and we are investigating what happened as a deliberate arson attack.

“Our enquiries are ongoing and I would appeal to anyone who may be able to assist with our investigation to contact us on 101, quoting reference 1540 19/11/23.

“We are especially keen to hear from anyone who was in the Castle Street area of the town and near the church on Sunday evening between 9.30pm and 9.45pm, and noticed anything suspicious, to get in touch.”