Belfast blaze church saved by whisker thanks to cat Tilly's wanderings
A Co Antrim rector was rushed to hospital suffering from the effects of smoke inhalation after he made desperate attempts to extinguish a fire that destroyed the roof of his church.
One fireman was also taken to hospital for treatment after masonry fell on him during the incident.
Reverend Adrian McLaughlin was alerted to the blaze at St Colman's Church in Dunmurry while searching for his pet cat Tilly in the early hours of yesterday.
The inferno, which is understood to have been caused by an electrical fault, resulted in significant damage that could take up to a year to repair.
Firefighters spent some four hours tackling the blaze at the church.
Rev McLaughlin explained that if it weren't for the cat, the church would have been "totally destroyed".
"If nature had not called me, and Tilly the cat had not wanted in, I would not have seen the fire and no doubt the church building would have been totally destroyed," he said.
"It is with grateful thanks to the brave firefighters that we owe so much.
"I and my family are physically and emotionally exhausted from last night's events, so please give us some time to take a breather."
John Williams, a lay preacher at the church, told the Belfast Telegraph that Rev McLaughlin was recovering at his home yesterday.
"He was very shaken and shocked and is coughing a lot from the smoke and has some discomfort in his chest," he said.
"The cat didn't return home on Sunday night, so the rector got up just after 1am to go to the bathroom and he decided to look outside to see if he could see the cat. The rectory is just next door to the church and when he was out he saw what he thought was a light from the pulpit. He thought it had been left on from the services yesterday.
"So he went into the church and it was filled with white smoke. He looked around to see if he could see a fire and then he saw a glow in behind the organ pipes. He went over and pulled two of the pipes out and there was a fire, so he used the garden hose to try and put out the fire.
"When he put the water on it the whole thing just went up in flames. There was a massive fire and the roof is destroyed. A lot of the internal work is all badly damaged."
Rev McLaughlin suffered smoke inhalation and spent some six hours in the Royal Victoria Hospital undergoing treatment.
Mr Williams said that the whole community had been left shocked by events.
It is thought that repairs to the church building could take up to a year.
A Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service spokesperson said: "NIFRS received a call at 1.08am to a report of a fire at premises at the Church Avenue area of Dunmurry.
"One firefighter was taken to hospital with non-serious injuries, following masonry falling on him during the incident.
"NIFRS finished at the scene at 5.20am and the fire is being treated as accidental."