Landmark Belfast church at risk of 'falling down' without restoration
One of Belfast's finest churches is in danger of falling down unless millions of pounds are spent on it, according to a senior clergyman.
St Patrick's Church in Donegall Street has been a Belfast landmark for 140 years, as well as source of spiritual comfort to generations of parishioners in the north of the city.
The church has just had £1m spent on urgent restoration work to the upper third of its 180ft spire - a sum that included a donation of £2,000 from Prince Charles, during a visit in 2015. But church administrator Fr Eugene O'Neill says the iconic church needs millions more spent on it if it is to survive.
Almost a century and half of exposure to the elements has eaten away at its masonry.
"In one sense, St Patrick's is like the Houses of Parliament.
"It's built largely of sandstone - the least weather resistant rock that could have been chosen," said Fr O'Neill.
Describing much of the external stonework as being in "an appalling state", Fr O'Neill said: "We have no alternative. We have to raise the money, otherwise the church will fall down."
The cleric's warning comes as the Donegall Street area undergoes massive change, with the construction of the huge new Ulster University campus nearby.
"The area is just transforming in front of our eyes," the priest said.
"The University of Ulster will be nearly as tall as the spire.
"We will be enveloped - almost hugged by them!"
To save the church, Fr O'Neill said he was bringing together a team of high-powered business people and industrialists.
They'll be coming together from October onwards to provide him with fundraising advice.
"I will put myself into the hands of these advisers and I will go begging," Fr O'Neill said. "We hope that people will dig deep - because there is no alternative. It will fall down."
Asked how confident he was of raising the money, Fr O'Neill said: "I am a man of faith."