'Disgust' and 'disappointment' as cross and collection box stolen and candelabra damaged in break-ins at North West churches

Rev Suzanne Cousins outside St Finian's Church, which overlooks the fishing port of Greencastle in Donegal.
Rev Suzanne Cousins outside St Finian's Church, which overlooks the fishing port of Greencastle in Donegal.

The targeting of churches in separate break-ins in recent days has sparked anger among congregations in the North West.

In the first incident, which occurred over last Thursday night and Friday morning, February 21 and 22, a cross was stolen from St. Finian's Church of Ireland, Greencastle in the Anglican Diocese of Derry and Raphoe.

Parish reader Valerie McKinley and Rev Suzanne Cousins greet parishioners Mary and Tracey Kerrigan after Sunday morning's Service of Morning Prayer in St Finian's Church, Greencastle

Parish reader Valerie McKinley and Rev Suzanne Cousins greet parishioners Mary and Tracey Kerrigan after Sunday morning's Service of Morning Prayer in St Finian's Church, Greencastle

Gardaí are investigating the break-in in which it appears an intruder or intruders forced open the door into the vestry at the rear of the building.

In a second, unrelated incident, a candelabra was damaged and a sum of money stolen from a collection box in St. Patrick's Church, Castlederg, in the Catholic Diocese of Derry on Sunday, February 24.

Following the the Inishowen burglary, which was discovered on Friday by two members of the St. Finian's congregation, the Bishop’s Curate-in-Charge of the Grouped Parishes of Moville Union, Donagh, Culdaff and Cloncha (Malin), Rev. Suzanne Cousins said: “The congregation asked God’s blessing on them and asked that the symbol of the cross would be a reminder to them of God’s deep and wonderful love, shown through Jesus’ coming to us, his death for us, and his resurrection which saves us.

“In the grand scheme of things. This is a small incident. No physical damage was done to any person or to the church building or furniture, and for this we are thankful. However, the incident is unsettling and disappointing for the parishioners.”

St Finian's Church of Ireland, Greencastle, Co Donegal.

St Finian's Church of Ireland, Greencastle, Co Donegal.

St. Finian’s, which overlooks the fishing port of Greencastle, is a pre-disestablishment church and the oldest of the five churches in the Moville group of parishes.

“It would be best for everyone if the person or persons responsible quietly came forward and returned the cross,” Rev Cousins said.

She thanked gardaí for their response to the incident and confirmed that officers had taken materials away from the church to help their investigation.

On a positive note, Rev. Cousins said, another parishioner had offered to donate a replacement cross if the original wasn’t found or returned soon.

“For this, we are very grateful and quite moved,” she said.

Meanwhile, following the Castlederg incident, Sergeant Neville Martin of the PSNI said: "We received a report at 6.20 p.m. that a male had been inside the church on Castlefin Road and had damaged a candelabra. It was also reported that a collection box inside the church had been forced open and a sum of money was stolen. It's believed this occurred between 5.35 p.m. and 5.50 p.m., and the suspect was accompanied by another male at the time.

"Both suspects are described as being between 5'8'' and 5' 10'' tall. One of them is described as being as being of an average build with dark hair and wore a blue coat, black tracksuit bottoms, white socks and black trainers. The second suspect is described as being of a slighter build, fairer haired and wore grey jogging bottoms, a black jacket with a grey hood, possible from a hooded top underneath.

"I want to appeal to anyone who knows anything about this incident, or who was in the area and saw two males matching the description of the suspects to get in touch.

"Anyone who can help us with our enquiries is asked to call us on the non emergency number 101, quoting reference 1127 of 24/02/19."

Sinn Féin Councillor Ruairí Mc Hugh said: "Thankfully the would-be thieves were thwarted in their attempts as people arrived to lock up. Although they bundled a man to the side on their exit, thankfully he is unharmed.

"The local community is disgusted that the local chapel has now been targeted in this way and adds further to the growing concern throughout the Castlederg and wider border area over the seeming impunity with which these criminal gangs targeting homes, businesses, farms, property and vehicles throughout the area are able to operate.

“The PSNI needs to prioritise, along with an Garda Síochána, in identifying and apprehending these gangs which have been targeting this area over recent times."