Vandals have wrecked historic grave stones at the Shankill Graveyard in Lurgan, causing irreparable damage.
The graveyard, which is the resting place of Margorie McCall - said to have died once but buried twice - has been a mecca for junkies in recent years.
Despite people in the Shankill area taking great pride in the historic cemetery, gangs of youths drinking and doing drugs have infiltrated the grounds.
Local historian Jim Conway said the damage done is ‘shocking’. Mr Conway, who is part of groups which organise talks and drama evenings in the graveyard, said the extent of the vandalism was serious.
“Up to half a dozen graves have been badly damaged, some beyond repair. Some of these graves are among the oldest in Co Armagh and date back to the 1600s,” he told the ‘MAIL’.
He added those who caused the damage ‘are not supported by the local community’.
He appealed to the local council to fit anti-climbing devices at the side entrance gate.
He said the site was a place of worship over the centuries and it had begun as a simple double ringed fort which is still noticeable. The graves of people who lived in the earliest days of Lurgan, including the Brownlow family, are still present in the cemetery.
A PSNI spokesperson said: “Police were made aware of damage to headstones, some of them over 100 years old, on Wednesday morning, September 2. The damage was discovered as trees and shrubbery are being cut back in the cemetery. Some of the damage appears to have occurred some time ago while some is much more recent and could possibly have occurred over the last week. Branches of trees have also been torn down.”
Armagh Banbridge and Craigavon Council said it is exploring various options to combat vandalism in Shankill Cemetery.
Lord Mayor Councillor Darryn Causby condemned the vandalism, “Any type of vandalism in a graveyard is disgraceful, and this incident is particularly poignant as Shankill has such historic significance. This behaviour simply serves to lower the tone of the area, costs money to fix and uses valuable resources that could be directed elsewhere to improve the area.”
Reflecting the importance of the site, in the last 5-6 years the council has invested £25-£30,000 in Shankill cemetery. Work has included: resurfacing of all pathways; repairs to fencing; additional fencing installed; tree works e.g. crown reduction and removal; and removal of overgrown shrubbery.
Lough Neagh Writers group will be having a performance of “Living History of Shankill Cemetry” at 2pm on September 26.
Donations accepted for PIPS.