The remains of dozens of people could be exhumed as part of plans to build a new school, it has emerged.
The controversial plan to construct a £2 million primary school involves removing a large section of the graveyard adjoining Saint Columba’s Church, near Draperstown, to make way for a footpath. The plan has been slammed as an act of “desecration” by one angry relative.
The remains of dozens of people believed by some to be buried there will be relocated to another section of the graveyard.
Although it is not known how many graves will be disturbed, it is understood a survey carried out recently by a local undertaker found that there were enough coffin spaces for 120 bodies on the strip of burial ground.
The graveyard survey also revealed that several of the graves contained intact coffins buried to a depth of just 18 inches.
And while many of the graves are old and unmarked, it is understood that relatives of people buried there to live locally.
Some of the people whose graves are earmarked for removal were buried in the graveyard as recently as the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Angry parishioners, who claim they haven’t been consulted about the plan, intend to hold a public meeting in Draperstown tonight in protest.
One local man, who didn’t want to be named, said local people were strongly opposed to the removal of the remains from their current resting place.
He said: “These plans have been drawn up and people haven’t been consulted about this. We are talking about real people being buried here, the sisters, grandparents and uncles of people who still live in this area.
“This is going to tear this parish apart if the plan goes ahead. It will even tear families apart. People are very annoyed that they haven’t been asked their views on this. Cemetery Sunday this year is on the first weekend of September. A lot of people intend to gather in the old graveyard and stand at the graves of these poor people on that day rather than at the graves of our own dead relatives as a show of solidarity. “
Department of Education officials have confirmed that building work on the new Saint Columba’s Primary School is scheduled to begin in December or early January 2011. It is understood Bishop of Derry Seamus Hegarty gave the controversial plan to remove the remains the green light late last year. He was unavailable for comment last night.
Writing in the parish bulletin Ballinascreen parish priest Father Colum Clerkin said Dr Hegarty had given his “reluctant approval for the realignment of the graveyard wall”.
Magherafelt councillor Kate Lagan met with concerned local residents last week.
The SDLP woman said: “It’s an annoying situation for everyone who has relatives buried in that part of the graveyard. An intermediary of some kind needs to be put in place pretty quickly to help resolve this. Someone needs to speak to both parties involved to try and find a solution.”