Glenavy – The Parish Church, Village, Vandalism and anti-social behaviour
I had reason to be in the graveyard at the Parish Church in Glenavy village on the evening of Thursday 6th August, 2009 to visit and attend to family graves located there. I later decided to take a walk round the graveyard, which has been used for the burial of the deceased from at least the early 18th century.
It wasn’t long before I came across an empty plastic drinks bottle sitting beside a water tap. The water tap has been provided by the church for those visiting and attending graves, and for other church purposes.
On examination I found that the top of the plastic bottle showed signs of smoke damage, appearing as if someone had lit something inside it. It was impossible not to notice the numerous squares of aluminium foil scattered about the immediate area. There were also a number of small resealable bags lying on the ground. These pieces of aluminium foil appeared to have been placed over the top of the plastic bottle, and most of the pieces I found contained a series of holes which had been pierced with a sharp object.
It did not take long to work out that the materials that I had located in the church graveyard were dumped there by persons participating in some form of drug abuse. I lifted handfuls of the material from the church path and nearby graves and I placed them in the church bin.
The experience was one of horror and unbelief. I had visited many burial places, throughout the district and I had never encountered a situation like this.
This is the first time I have seen a church bin contain more alcohol and drug related items than actual church waste.
In hindsight, I was perhaps fortunate to have a receptacle to put the waste into.
In August last year, the wheelie bins at the church were removed from the grounds and set alight beside the church lych gates. It was reported at that time, this was the fourth incident of vandalism in four months carried out at the church. There have been a litany of similar incidents reported in the local press relating to vandalism at the parish church and the surrounding village.
I have began to record such incidents for the information and perusal of the community in years to come. This will surely be a sad part of our history when generations in the future look back. I sincerely hope that what appears to be a steady increase in anti social behaviour does not continue in the forthcoming years.
In 2007, we saw the completion of the restoration work on an old property once used by the church as a Sunday-school. It was the brain child of the Glenavy Youth Project. Over the years it has been widely reported in the local press as a success and local police representatives informed the community that since the inception of the project, incidents of crime and anti social behaviour in the village had decreased.
But unfortunately, there appear to be a hardened element amongst the community who have yet to change their ways. They appear to have no respect for either the living nor the dead. They certainly do not seem to care anything for the sanctity of the church.
I have heard many older residents in the community relating to me incidents where they had attempted to visit graves in the graveyard but felt intimidated by youths sitting about the graveyard amongst the headstones, in many instances drinking. Others have been in fear of leaving their car parked in the adjacent carpark in case a stray football caused damage to their vehicle. On those occasions the people who had a legitimate reason to visit the graveyard left, feeling it was safer to return to visit their family graves on some future occasion.
I recall several years ago, approaching a group of youths loitering around the headstones, in the vicinity of the water tap. They failed to give me a reasonable explanation as to why they were there. I established they were neither parishioners or had anyone related to them buried there. They informed me they were there to play football. When I pointed out it was in fact a graveyard and not a football pitch they became arrogant and indignant before eventually leaving the area.
The "Private Church Property" sign to the left of the lych gate appears to be for decoration purposes only and is meaningless to those who disrespect the reason for its existence. It too bears some damage.
I was shocked by what I discovered on Thursday 6th August 2009. The sight of innumerable drinks bottles and cans scattered around the field adjacent to the church hall was disgraceful, but not as disturbing as the broken glass and drug taking implements that I removed from several family graves.
I’m sure that when the much respected Albert Arthur Oakman Peel erected the headstone on the family grave, in memory of his father who died in 1922, he could never have dreamt that drug takers would discard their waste material on and about the grave less than ninety years later.
The Kirkpatrick family grave is also situated close-by. The headstone there includes an inscription to John Parker Kirkpatrick, the second son of Arthur and Jeanette Kirkpatrick. He was killed in action in France on the 15th September 1916 at the age of 41 years. He had been a Company Sergeant major in the 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles Battalion. He is regarded as one of our local heroes, someone who gave their life so that we could enjoy our freedom today.
It was therefore ironic that on this grave I would pick up a discarded liqueur bottle lid. It bore the name "Jagermeister" and was undoubtedly of German origin.
If that message is not clear enough, then spare a few moments to look at what was sprayed on the shutters at the front of the parish hall by some of the unwelcome visitors to the church grounds – "Smoke weed".
Perhaps through time these people will see the error of their ways, but by that time how much more damage will have been inflicted on the community.
Maybe some time soon both the dead and alive in the area can all "rest in peace".
An example of a derelict property in Glenavy village where youths have been gathering. This property was once the Curate’s Residence and is located close to the Glen Road. It is now in the hands of a property developer. The garage has been broken into and there are numerous examples of drink and drug taking having taken place there. An attempt had been made to secure the property, but blockwork has been removed from the windows and access has been gained to the house. Youths appear to be freely accessing this location without challenge from landowner or authority.
I was informed that about ten minutes after photographing the premises and leaving the location 3 youths were seen going into the property again. This was in the afternoon, in daylight.
Some Local Press Reports
Thanks to the Ulster Star for permission to use extracts.
Ulster Star, September 15, 2000
Church suffers from spate of attacks by Mary Magee
The Rector of a Glenavy church says he is sickened by a number of attacks on its premises by vandals over the summer months.
The Rev. Earl Storey of St. Aidan’s Church on the Belfast Road, said youths were using the premises as a drinking den and causing damage to the 400 – year old church and its property.
Graves in the nearby graveyard have been disturbed, graffiti daubed on the pillars of the church and the clock face at the church tower broken by a catapult.
Excrement has also been found in the grounds of the church, signs have been vandalised and the collection plate was stolen during a break-in at the church.
Mr. Storey, who has been rector in Glenavy for two years, said the church had (not) experienced anything like the attacks which started four months ago.
The church was built in the 1600s and had to be rebuilt after it was destroyed by an accidental fire on the eve of the Second World War.
Mr. Storey said parishioners had expressed their concerns over the attacks.
The rector said many had told him they were frightened even to visit the graveyard in fear of what they might find.
"Unfortunately, the attacks during the summer months have been very consistent," said Mr. Storey.
"People visiting the graves were most distressed when they saw ornaments had been broken or flowers disturbed on graves of their loved ones."
"They said they are feeling more and more uncomfortable coming to the graves day or night."
"Unfortunately, church property is being used more and more as a drinking den by these people who appear to have no respect for the church or its property."
"Some of the parishioners have been very vigilant at night and have tried to move people along who have been seen hanging around but they cannot be there 24 hours a day."
Mr. Storey said residents in the village of all denominations had been sickened by the recent attacks.
"What I think has annoyed a lot of people is the lack of respect that these people have shown to our property – especially the graves," he said.
"I think this is totally unacceptable behaviour by anyone and I would urge them to stop. It is just ridiculous."
Ulster Star, March 9th, 2007
Rector appeals for end to church attacks.
The rector of Glenavy has appealed for an end to attacks on his churches after vandals smashed glass doors at St John’s Hall in Crumlin.
The Rev. John Rutter explained the incident occurred over the weekend when a brick was thrown at the building.
He said the shattered glass was quickly removed and the doors boarded up as children were due to use the hall on Sunday morning.
Mr. Rutter said he could think of no obvious reason for the incident although he felt it could be connected to a drop in centre for young people which operates in the hall on Friday evenings.
"I cannot be sure why this happened but I would appeal to people not to cause damage like this," he continued.
"For over three years we have tried to reach out to youngsters in the community by running this drop in centre which is used by between 60 and 70 people every Friday night."
Rev. Rutter said the drop in centre was used by young people from both sides of the community in Crumlin and added he was saddened by the vandalism.
He pointed out the incident was the latest in a series of attacks on churches in the Glenavy and Crumlin areas.
A police spokesman said anyone with information about the incident should contact officers on 0845600800. Alternatively, they can use the Crimestoppers number anonymously on 0800555111.
Ulster Star, February, 22 2008
Appeal to parents after spate of fires in Glenavy.
Lisburn Mayor James Tinsley has warned that arsonists are putting lives at risk after four derelict houses were damaged in separate attacks in Glenavy at the weekend.
The first blaze began at a vacant house at the junction of Glen Road and Main Street at about 8.30pm on Friday. Two more fires were started on Saturday morning. One of the houses was badly damaged. The fourth blaze was at a vacant property on the Belfast Road on Saturday night.
Mr Tinsley called on parents to take responsibility for their children and said pressure should also be put on developers too to demolish vacant houses as quickly as possible.
"Its only a matter of time before someone is seriously injured if these actions recur" he said. "How do children know there aren’t gas cylinders or oil tanks in these houses? They think this is a bit of fun in actual fact they are putting lives at risk."
South Antrim MLA Thomas Burns also urged parents to "exercise more responsibility."
"My understanding is that groups of school age children were hanging around all day Friday with nothing to do during half term."
"They then started breaking into houses which had been sold to developers, possibly just looking for somewhere to get out of the cold – at first."
He claimed youths started the fires using fire logs which they brought to keep warm.
"Whether the first fire started accidentally is hard to say, but when the same thing happened in four different houses and the Fire Brigade ended up chasing all over the place, we have to presume a more malicious motive developed." he said. The Fire and Rescue Service also appealed for an end to the fires, Lisburn District Commander, Randy McComb, said "Unoccupied buildings are dangerous places and should not be entered as they may be structurally unsafe. Deliberate fires in such buildings are not only pose a risk to the people that actually start them but to the Firefighters who have to respond to these fires. Firefighting is a dangerous job, without being exposed to such additional unnecessary risks.
When NIFRS is called to put out a deliberate fire, firefighters and appliances may be diverted away from the attention of a real emergency, like a house fire with people trapped inside or to the scene of a road traffic collision to help free casualties."
He urged the public to be vigilant and report any suspicious activity to the police.
Ulster Star, July 11th 2008
Glenavy facing a flower free summer after vandals destroy planters.
Floral displays wrecked just a week after being planted out in village by Jenny Monroe.
Glenavy looks set to be a flower free zone this summer after vandals completely destroyed the planters which were only placed in the village last week by Lisburn City Council.
A total of five planters were vandalised so badly they are beyond repair.
Now it’s unlikely the Council’s Environmental Services Department can replace them as floral orders and planting timescales have been completed.
The vandalism has been condemned by the Environmental Services committee chairman, Alderman Paul Porter, who said they had cost approximately £500.
"The Council has spent significant finances on floral displays and has worked extremely hard to ensure that our City and surrounding towns and villages look their best – at all times of the year, and particularly in the summertime floral displays and planting schemes do much to enhance the ambience and look and feel of the areas" he said.
"It is very disappointing to see that the planters have been spoiled, as this affects enjoyment of the displays for everybody and makes the area look unkept."
"It is the Council which has to return to the mess left behind by those who ruin the displays. I would urge the community to report any vandalism they may see happening to the PSNI as this form of vandalism can have the same effect as graffiti."
Representative for the area, former Mayor Councillor James Tinsley, also condemned the vandalism saying that it is "unfortunate that the village has to suffer because of the actions of mindless thugs."
Mr. Tinsley appealed for any witnesses to contact police with information they may feel is useful.
Ulster Star, August 8th, 2008
Fourth Attack on Glenavy church damages entrance.
Wheelie bins used in latest arson attack by Stacey Heaney.
A Glenavy church has been vandalised for the fourth time in four months in an arson attack last weekend.
Three wheelie bins were taken from various parts of the church grounds and set alight beside the gates around 11.30pm, causing minor scorch damage.
The rector, the Rev. John Rutter, explained: "A neighbour spotted the fire and called the Fire Brigade, who came and put it out. It left a sticky mess outside the entrance but thankfully it was spotted and wasn’t any worse."
He continued: "This is the fourth time in as many months this has happened. I think it is vandalism rather than pointed attacks on any particular church. I have been in touch with the police, they had promised to be more active in the area and I am hoping for more direct action on anti-social behaviour."
Rev. Rutter added, "We have the Glenavy Youth Project which is quite a vanguard of cross-community action, but some older members of the community may say we are rewarding youths for being bad."
"I would encourage families to use this as a reminder to know where their children are and if they are older children to check who they are with and give them times to be back, as some can get into bad company."
Rev. Rutter added, "Inevitably parishioners are angry that this goes on and on, particularly the older members who have seen enormous change in the village. There is anger at the disrespect for Church property, and by implication, those who go there. There is a clash between the city and the country and this only adds to the general attitude of suspicion of newcomers."
The Rev. Rutter added he was hopeful those responsible will be caught.
Inspector Stephen Burns from Lisburn PSNI, said local neighbourhood officers are following a positive line of enquiry.
"We are working with the Community Outreach Worker and Rev. John Rutter to deal with any problems they are having there," he said.
Sinn Fein MLA Paul Butler strongly condemned the incident as "a despicable attack on a place of worship."
Mr. Butler said: "I would like to extend my sympathies and solidarity to Rev. John Rutter and the congregation at St. Aidan’s, a congregation which has generously and admirably led the way in providing much needed premises for the youth of the village, regardless of creed."
"I would call on anyone with information relating to this attack – or any previous incidents – to bring those details to the PSNI to ensure the culprits are apprehended."
Ulster Unionist MLA Basil McCrea, who visited the scene to speak to the Rev. Rutter, said: "The church is trying very hard to reach out to the wider community and the PSNI really needs to take a proactive approach. The congregation needs to be protected from these sort of attacks."
Ulster Star, March 27, 2009
Halls and Churches target of Attacks. Dissidents accused of "Raising Tension." by Mary Magee.
Dissident Republicans intent on raising tension have been blamed for a spate of graffiti attacks on Orange Halls, a Mission Hall and private houses on the outskirts of Lisburn over the past two weekends.
Slogans were sprayed on four Orange Halls last weekend, following five further incidents the previous weekend in the wider Lisburn area. The war memorial at Stoneyford was defaced, while slogans were sprayed on the pillars of St. Aidan’s Church in Glenavy. Road signs in Glenavy were also damaged in the attack.
Premises in Stoneyford, Knocknadonagh, the Mount, Fourscore and Magheragalll had "CIRA" and "RIRA" slogans daubed on the walls.
Former Mayor, Councillor James Tinsley, who is deputy Master of Fourscore LOL, condemned the attacks…"
Ulster Star, April 24, 2009
CALL FOR MORE POLICE TO TACKLE ANTI-SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR
MLA Paul Butler has met with local police commander Chief Inspector David Moore about ongoing problems of crime and anti social behaviour in Glenavy.
Paul Butler. Mr Butler said he had called for more police resources in the the area to stop ongoing problems which have dogged the area for some time.
A chip shop in the village’s main street was vandalised in the early hours of Monday morning. It is believed three windows were broken by a bat.
Mr Butler said that there had been ongoing problems relating to anti social behaviour around the main street and St Aidans Church.
He said he had also received complaints about drinking at the graveyard and vandalism of grave stones.
Mr Butler said he would also be asking Lisburn City Council for an enforcement order on owners of vacant properties where there have been a number of fires.
"I believe some of these vacant properties need to be demolished or secured better" he said.
Ulster Star, July 10 2009
Glenavy church hall attacked before it opens by Jenny Monroe.
A new church hall building which has not even opened yet has been attacked by vandals.
The Glenavy Methodist Hall is set to open officially in September but has already been the victim of vandals after a window was smashed.
The Minister of the Church, the Rev. Liz Hewitt, said she hoped it would not happen again.
"It is a pity that at this stage we are already beginning to think of how to protect the building," she said. "This is meant to be a facility for both the congregation and the community. I hope we can move forward an put this incident behind us."
Alderman Cecil Calvert condemned the attack. He said: "It is deplorable that this attack has taken place and I would call on anyone with information about this incident to relay it to the PSNI. These attacks have to stop."
Mr. Calvert also appealed to the PSNI to step up neighbourhood policing in Glenavy.
He said "There is something wrong when attacks like this on church property are increasing in Glenavy. The people who are causing this damage are mindless thugs and I am calling on the parents to take some responsibility for their children’s actions to ensure these attacks cease."
Councillor James Tinsley also condemned the attack saying "This new hall is a welcome building for the community and for mindless thugs to smash windows it is a disgrace."
Ulster Star, July 31, 2009
The Ulster Star reported a house at Glen Road, Glenavy being attacked "when drunken youths smashed flower pots at the house in the early hours of Saturday morning."
It was reported that four windows were broken and damage was caused to furniture inside. "Police made on arrest of a person who was later bailed pending further enquiries."
Councillor James Tinsley said that he was horrified to hear about the incident.
He said it was "nothing short of a disgrace" and called the attack "cowardly." He urged anyone who know anything about the attack to contact police.
"I am horrified that someone would target this house in this way. It is nothing short of a disgrace. These people must have had to climb onto a gate to even get to the house."
"There must be people who know about this attack and they should come forward." ….