Cleric’s return to North North ‘completes the circle’

Fr. Kevin Mullan and Rev. David Armstrong in Limavady last year. 2604SJ20-rev
Fr. Kevin Mullan and Rev. David Armstrong in Limavady last year. 2604SJ20-rev

A former Presbyterian minister forced to flee Limavady more than 25 years ago after exchanging Christmas greetings with a Catholic priest says his return to the North will “complete the circle”.

Rev. David Armstrong, who ministers at Carrigaline, near Cork city, was forced to leave the Roe Valley town after he shook hands with local priest, Fr Kevin Mullan, at Christ The King Chapel on Christmas morning.

Hardline loyalists threatened and verbally abused him for two years because they objected to him exchanging the goodwill greetings.

Mr Armstrong (62) left with his family in 1985 to retrain in the Church of England. He served in Oxford and Cambridge and then moved to Cork in 1990.

In 2008, six unionist Limavady councillors blocked a motion by the SDLP to give him the Freedom of the Limavady Borough.

Last year, the ‘Journal’ exclusively revealed he made an emotional return to the town to visit a former adversary.

Yesterday, he told the ‘Journal’ he and his wife June planned to settle at the end of July in Carrickfergus, Co Antrim, where he ministered between 1977 and 1980. They have two married daughters, Julie, who lives in London, and Sarah, who is in south Belfast.

“I’m really looking forward to going back to Northern Ireland,” he said. “I want to get back because it completes the circle. I have very much loved being here in Cork and have been treated with nothing but kindness and warmth and I could easily stay on here and die here, but that would be defeat.”

Rev. Armstrong said he will visit Limavady when he can and “hold his head high”.

“There are genuine people in Limavady and I have good memories and, of course, I’ll be in touch with Fr. Kevin, who is in Drumquin. I like to think we broke the mould 25 years ago.”

Mr Armstrong, who was re-united publicly with Fr. Mullan last year when they were guests of honour at the annual Limavady Mayor’s Ball, said the decision by First Minister Peter Robinson, DUP leader, to attend the requiem Mass in Beragh, Co Tyrone, earlier this month for murdered Catholic police officer Ronan Kerr, had been hugely significant.