Loyalist protest Catholic church at Harryville razed to the ground
One of Northern Ireland's best known churches – renowned for being targeted by loyalist protesters – will be reduced to rubble today, writes Claire McNeilly.
Our Lady's Church, situated in the loyalist Harryville area of Ballymena, has been the scene of violent protests, rioting and the victim of constant sectarian vandalism since it opened in 1968.
The landmark building on the Larne Road has been closed since February 2012 because of leaks and structural damage that would have cost £650,000 to repair. SDLP councillor for the area Declan O'Loan said it was the end of an era, but that the writing "has been on the wall for some time".
"Many people will have very fond memories of going to Mass there, having weddings there, and there have been many family funerals there, so it means a lot to people," he said.
Our Lady's – known better locally as Harryville church – has borne regular paint, arson and other sectarian attacks during its 45-year history.
But it was brought into sharp focus in 1996 when a series of demonstrations began outside its doors in response to nationalist objections to an Orange Order parade in the nearby village of Dunloy.
The protests, which often disrupted Masses and frequently turned into riots, eventually ended after the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998.
Parish Priest Fr Paddy Delargy said the decision to close the well-known church last year was for health and safety reasons.
Retired civil servant and local parishioner Margaret Kerr, who regularly attended the church over 40 years, said it was a very sad day for the congregation.