Belfast Telegraph

Minister forced into exile by loyalist death threats returns home

By Anne Madden

A clergyman forced into exile after loyalist death threats 26 years ago is returning to Northern Ireland.

Rev David Armstrong, a former Presbyterian minister, revealed he is moving home from Cork, where he has been a Church of Ireland vicar since 2000.

The minister was threatened by loyalists in 1985 in Limavady, Co Londonderry, because he cultivated good relations with the local Catholic priest.

Rev Armstrong and Fr Kevin Mullan had exchanged Christmas greetings in each other’s churches, which ignited the wrath of some local people.

“The DUP gave me a roasting, told me I was doomed, that I would burn for eternity for going into a Roman Catholic church,” Rev Armstrong recalled.

“I was relieved to see Peter Robinson going to the funeral Mass of Constable Ronan Kerr — it’s given me a bit of confidence that the DUP has moved on.”

A softening of hardline attitudes is not the only reason the minister feels able to return to Northern Ireland.

The 62-year-old, who is at retirement age, said he “feels drawn back”.

“It will be the completion of a circle,” he said. “If I stayed away it would be a deceit, people might say I didn’t want to come back.”

Far from retiring, Rev Armstrong is moving to Carrickfergus in August where he ministered before moving to Limavady. He aims to take services and do reconciliation work wherever he is asked.

He revealed he has been invited to a parish in the nationalist Short Strand area of Belfast and has also received letters from people in Limavady who have had a change of heart over his past ecumenical work.

“People have written to me who said we didn’t agree with you back in the 80s, but now realise that hands across the divide is the only way forward,” he said.

The minister has always felt drawn to serving people in Northern Ireland. After the plane crash in February at Cork Airport which is close to his parish in Carrigaline, Rev Armstrong offered support and accommodation to any relatives of victims coming from Northern Ireland.

“People shouted ‘David, it’s the Belfast plane’ — they knew my heart would be sore, especially for the people of Belfast,” he said.

Rev David Armstrong was a minister in the First Presbyterian church in Limavady from 1980 to 1985. He received both praise and criticism for his ecumenical work with the Catholic church in the area. In 1985 he was told by police his life was in danger after loyalist death threats. He moved with his wife and four children to England, retraining as an Anglican minister before moving to Cork in 2000.

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