A sledgehammer must have been used to destroy yet more headstones at an historic Shankill Graveyard in Lurgan, says a local councillor.
The PSNI and newly-elected councillors saw first hand the latest damage amid scores of older headstones laying destroyed from previous attacks.
Many of the grave stones have suffered irreparable damage - some of these headstones date back centuries while others still have family members visiting.
Public meeting on vandalism of historic Shankill Graveyard
Affiliated to Shankill Parish Church and now owned by Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council, the council has started to erect a fence between the main gates and gate house and the graveyard itself in a bid to block out vandals.
The side of the graveyard along the railway lines has become a drinking and drugs den for anti-social elements in recent years.
Following a campaign, the group Friends of Shankill Graveyard was set up to protect and promote the historic graveyard.
On Wednesday night it hosted a tour with local police, councillors and council officials as well as community leaders.
All were horrified at the level of the destruction.
Elderly woman in tears at destruction in Shankill Graveyard
SDLP Cllr Joe Nelson said: “This amounts to nothing less than the desecration of a place apart, somewhere that reflects not only the rich cultural heritage of Lurgan where those of all faiths are interred but is also an oasis of calm where people can escape from the bustle of the town.
“I am not only bewildered why anyone would want to do this but am also perplexed about the fact that this is not random vandalism, those who did this must have come with sledge hammers.
“As you can see from the pics headstones that were repaired and indeed reinforced with steel bars have been damaged again.”
Sinn Fein Cllr Liam Mackle condemned the ‘senseless vandalism at this very important historic site’.
He said: “I will continue to work with council officers to ensure the site is secure and applaud the efforts of the new friends of Shankill Graveyard in highlighting the issues.”
DUP Cllr Stephen Moutray said: “I’m appalled that this has happened again. Last night with the friends of Shankill Graveyard group and other councillors I toured the graveyard and have today been in contact with council to ascertain when the location will be secured. I will also be seeking other measures to protect the headstones in the lovely historic setting.”
UUP Cllr Louise McKinstry said: “It is shocking to see the extent of the damage. It has taken great force to cause some of it and there seems to be few plots remaining that have been left alone. It defies belief that young ones are still returning to this graveyard despite the events a few weeks ago and despite the appeals for the monuments and grounds to be respected.”