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Northern Ireland's smallest church demolished

By Allan Preston

An unholy row has erupted after it emerged that the smallest church in Ireland is no more.

Measuring just 11ft 4in x 6ft 9in (3.45m x 2.06m), St Gobban's in the north Antrim coastal hamlet of Portbradden had for many years been a popular visitor attraction and the venue for dozens of weddings.

The building had been owned by retired clergyman and teacher the Rev Con Auld, a former mayor of North Down.

Having sold the property in the last two years, it has now been demolished, with a wooden fence hiding the view and a sign with the words 'Private property, keep out'.

In recent weeks speculation about the future of St Gobban's had appeared online.

Ulster Unionist councillor Norman Mills was a frequent visitor, recalling it as a "tourist gem", but accepted that it was private property.

While some have lamented its disappearance, others are happy it has been razed.

One local resident contacted the Belfast Telegraph to say she and a number of other neighbours were glad to see the back of it.

The woman, who didn't wish to be named, said: "Portbradden is a tiny hamlet with a very windy, steep road down to it.

"Over the years this did become a tourist attraction, but since then the old stone wall beside it has collapsed.

"This was wrongly promoted as a church.

It's not a listed building and over the years it has been the bane of our lives."

The resident also felt all the attention had been unfair on the present owner, a businessman who uses the property as a holiday home and who had been subjected to a "witch-hunt" over his changes to the site.

"Let's face it, if you bought property, paid good money for it, how can people tell you what to do with it?" she asked.

"Social media can be useful, but it has now festered. It's a terrible situation for the guy."

Sinn Fein councillor Cara McShane said she could understand both sides of the argument. "I grew up in Ballintoy and I remember one or two people round that area didn't look on it overly positively, as they said it wasn't a consecrated church," she said.

"But there were a lot of marriages there and people do attach a lot of sentiment to it.

"But what control do we have over a private building?

"Hindsight's a wonderful thing and it was located on that beautiful Causeway Coast way, which our council is very much trying to promote and extend.

"It's just unfortunate. If you see any pictures and paintings of the area, the church was always included. It became a big part of the landscape."

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