Demolition looms for Catholic church at Harryville
A landmark Catholic church in Ballymena that has been a target of loyalist protests for many years is to be demolished in the coming months.
Our Lady's Church on the Larne Road – known locally as Harryville due to its location – has borne paint attacks, arson and other sectarian acts, particularly in the 1990s when demonstrations took place outside it.
It has been closed since February 2012 because of leaking water and structural damage that is estimated to cost as much as £650,000 to fix.
Parish Priest Fr Paddy Delargy told the Belfast Telegraph that an economic appraisal of the building found it unviable to repair the roof and electrics and the chapel was closed for health and safety reasons.
"The decision was then taken to close the church permanently and the congregation was relocated to Crebilly chapel," he said.
"The problems in the 1990s are a remote cause of its closure, but only because the Catholic population evaporated from that area of town. It is a beautiful church... but the repairs would not be the best way to invest our money."
Demonstrations began outside the church in 1996 in response to nationalist objections to an Orange Order parade in the nearby village of Dunloy. They eventually came to an end after the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. Fr Delargy said the decision on the future of Harryville, which was opened in September 1968, was taken on the basis of other factors indicative of the signs of the times.
"There just aren't as many priests available and I see that as a positive way of involving more lay people in the work of the Church," he said.
"It was extremely difficult to take a decision to close a church but it was taken after careful consideration about where our future investment is most needed, including putting our attention to a group working for the care of people with addiction."
SDLP councillor Declan O'Loan said the writing has been on the wall for the Church of Our Lady for some time. "The protest placed the church at the centre of world attention. I will never forget the hatred, the sense of menace, the fear of attacks on the church and on school buildings and Catholic homes. The rest of the world looked on aghast, incredulous that people simply going to church could be subjected to such abuse," he said.