Fr. O’Kane grateful Holy Family Church not another Notre Dame
Ballymagroarty priest, Fr. Paddy O’Kane, said he is grateful no-one was hurt in an arson attack that, at one stage, threatened to engulf the Holy Family Church on Friday night.
Fr. O’Kane praised a ‘Good Samaritan’ who alerted the parish secretary who was in the Parochial House when arsonists torched an adjacent outbuilding at 10.30 p.m.
“A passer-by, a ‘Good Samaritan,’ managed to warn the secretary who was in the building doing the Parish Bulletin at the time.
“The fire service arrived very quickly and managed to contain the fire.
“When I arrived I knew one of the fire fighters and his first words to me were: ‘It’s under control.’ That was such a relief. I’m so grateful that no-one was hurt and that the church and the Parochial House weren’t destroyed,” said the local Derry priest.
Fr. O’Kane was visiting parishioners at the time and was first alerted to the blaze via a mobile phone.
“I thought it was trick photography at first. It was impossible to believe. Then when you look at what happened at Notre Dame a few weeks ago,” he noted.
Fr. Paddy believes the arsonists scaled a gate to the rear of the church and may have used fuel from a lawnmover to ignite the fire.
“They came in at the back of the church, climbing over a high gate, clearly with the intention of causing a fire.
“There wasn’t anything particularly flammable. The only thing I can think is that they might have spotted the lawnmover and used that to start the fire,” he added.
Over the weekend Fr. O’Kane prayed for the young men responsible.
He said it was possible they struggledd with their own personal difficulties.
“We’ve prayed for the young people who started the fire. It’s likely they are very troubled,” he claimed.
Police, meanwhile, have said they are seeking two males in connection with the arson attack.
Detective Constable Fielding said: “The blaze spread to the church and nearby parochial ouse causing damage to both. The outbuilding was completely destroyed.
“At this stage we believe two males may have been involved in starting this fire and we are keen to identify them.
“We would like to hear from anyone who was in the area at around the time of the fire or anyone who may have information regarding this crime. The number to call is 101, please quote reference 2311 24/05/19.”
The Mayor of Derry and Strabane, Colr. Michaela Boyle said: “This was an attack on the home of a priest, it was also an attack on the church and community. It was by the grace of god no one was injured.
“Only for the quick response of those in the parochial house at the time, who got the emergency services called out before the fire spread to the church and house this would have been a lot worse.”
SDLP MLA Mark H. Durkan said: “I was first alerted about the fire by a phone call from a constituent who informed me that the church was on fire.
“I was relieved that, when I attended the scene, the actual fire had been contained to out-buildings at the rear of the parochial house and had not spread to the chapel itself. This was down to the swift actions of our heroic fire-fighters.
“I am both disappointed and disgusted that this blaze was started deliberately. Those responsible have no regard for the damage and danger that they have caused.
“Indeed, their actions are a stark contrast to those of the dozens of parishioners who attended the scene to see how they could help and to check that everything was ok.
“They are the real face of Ballymagroarty and of Derry - a community that comes together when times are tough. Now we need to come together and appeal to those responsible for this senseless attack to desist from this activity that puts lives at risk.
“I would also encourage anyone with any information about this incident to pass it on to the police or anyone in authority that they are comfortable speaking to.”
Sinn Féin Councillor Mickey Cooper said: “I visited the scene on Friday night after being contacted by worried parishioners as the blaze could be seen across a wide area and photos of the fire appeared on social media.
“There was shock in the local community and a concern that the fire could spread to parochial house and the chapel.
“I would like to commend the quick actions of the Fire Service in preventing this blaze from spreading as this could have been a lot worse.”
Damage to the outbuildings at the rear of the Parochial House.
A shocking image of the fireball and smoke flume that erupted in Ballymagroarty following an arson attack at the Holy Family Church last Friday night.