Volunteers have voiced outrage after St Peter’s Parish in Lurgan snubbed a special blessing at the Dougher Cemetery on Sunday after months of restoration work.
A large group of local people gathered daily to bring the historic graveyard back to dignity after years of vandalism and neglect.
Prominent priest Monsignor Raymond Murray had been invited to attend the blessing, however, it is understood he was contacted by a Lurgan priest. After that, Monsignor Murray did not attend the blessing.
Jim McIlmurray who helped coordinate the project said the attitude of the church ‘has created much anger and disappointment in the community’.
For months the Friends of Dougher Cemetery had been tending graves and cleaning headstones. They also raised funds to erect to memorials which were unveiled on Sunday. Mr McIlmurray said: “Decades of neglect and vandalism had taken its toll.”
Mr McIlmurray, who spearheads a legal campaign against the British Government on behalf of the ‘Hooded Men’, said he visited the Dougher regularly with one of the Lurgan Hooded Men, the late Gerry McKerr and after his death the local community raised funds to erect a memorial stone on behalf of the Shankill people. There is also a memorial stone to local victims of the famine.
Mr McIlmurray said Monsignor Murray had pulled out of Sunday’s event following a call from a Lurgan priest.
He said. “He told me the parish owned the site and were responsible for its upkeep and maintenance and that I had no right in erecting memorials in it or inviting Monsignor Murray either. The presence of the Hooded Men was also addressed a number of times.”
Mr McIlmurray said he asked the priest why the Dougher had been allowed to fall into a state of neglect but claimed his query went unanswered.
“I asked the Father did he request I cancel the event. Without receiving an answer I went ahead with it and the turn out surpassed all expectations. I read the address Monsignor Murray had planned to give. No priest from the parish was in attendance. In my opinion the parish missed an opportunity to reach out to the community, to embrace the work of local volunteers. The attitude they adopted regarding this event has created much anger and disappointment in the Lurgan community.
“The parish had four decades to preserve this site, and didn’t. They had the opportunity of regaining credibility in the celebrations in times of negative press concerning the church and didn’t.”
The ‘MAIL’ asked the church’s press office for comment but none was received at the time of going to press.