Watch: Locals 'devastated' as blaze guts Antrim mansion
An historic 18th century mansion in Antrim town gutted in a deliberate fire has left the community devastated, local representatives have said.
The blaze ripped through Steeple House yesterday morning and burned for around seven hours before firefighters were able to bring it under control.
Three fire engines attended the blaze at 5.20am and firefighters with breathing apparatus battled the flames.
A fire service spokesperson said the blaze was extinguished by 12.15pm and the cause was determined to be deliberate.
Steeple House, a Grade B listed building, was originally owned by the Clarke family, from Antrim, and was later headquarters of the old Antrim Borough Council.
It has been vacant since 2007, however it is understood the council has plans to redevelop the site.
Alliance councillor Neil Kelly said he hopes the building can be restored.
"It is very sad to see such a great building going up in flames, especially a listed building with such great connections to the council," he said. "But it is even sadder to learn that the fire may have been started on purpose," Mr Kelly added.
DUP MLA Pam Cameron commended the work of the emergency services and urged anyone with any information about the fire to contact the police.
"The sight of Steeple House in flames is one that will bring a sense of sadness to all local people who cherish this historic local building," she added.
"For many they will have memories of this place in its former glory, and to see it now all but a shell is truly devastating."
Craig Hogg of the Steeple Community Association said the inside of the building has been completely gutted, however the structure remains standing.
"It's sad to see the building gutted, it's such an iconic piece of Antrim town," he said.
"We have had hopes it could one day become a community hub, so I hope the building can be restored to its former glory."
Ulster Unionist MLA Steven Aiken called for a full investigation into the cause of the fire.
"The building has a long history within the Steeple and Antrim area and to see it in the state it is in after this major fire is upsetting for many people," he said.