Two prominent Lurgan historians are begging the local council to step up after yet more destruction to one of the country’s most ancient graveyards.
It comes after a pensioner was left distraught after finding her parents’ headstone in Lurgan’s Shankill Graveyard totally destroyed.
Isabel Hylands and Jim Conway have called on Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council to buy back the gate lodge and gates and invest in the ancient heritage that is Shankill.
One woman, whose grandparents and uncle are buried there, said her aunt was very upset after visiting the graveyard on Saturday to find an awful lot of damage.
“I know years ago they wrecked some of the older headstones but now they seem to have gone absolutely mad.”
She explained that her late mother had the headstone reinforced and straightened several years back and her uncle was buried in the family plot nine years ago.
“My grandparents are in it. My great aunt is in it.
Now the grave stone has been completely smashed over. We can’t even lift it, it’s so heavy and we are afraid to put it back up in case they do the same thing again.
“My aunt visited on Saturday. She is in her 70s and she was in tears. It’s her parents and her brother’s grave as well.
“What do we do? Do we fix it only for it to be destroyed again?
“For years we didn’t put a wreath on until Christmas Day because if you did, they took them and either sold them or put them on their doors.
“It’s very distressing,” she said.
She asked if the authorities could put up CCTV cameras.
She also backed the campaign to ask the council to buy back the gate house and gates in a drive to protect the cemetery.
“It’s a commonwealth war graveyard and of huge historical importance.
“It’s just so stupid that those gates are left open,” she said.
“It seems crazy that the council sold the gates to the graveyard and the gate house. Whoever made that decision to sell their gates - where was their brain?”
When asked what the council are doing, a spokesperson responded: “Council is aware of the recent damage at Shankill Graveyard and is currently exploring options to help reduce the likelihood of vandalism in the future.”
Isabel Hylands, who has family buried in Shankill Graveyard, has spent decades researching the graveyard.
She said the vandalism was ‘disgraceful’ and called on the Council to invest in the historic site.
She added that with the numbers of dogs running wild in the cemetery it is only a matter of time that they dig up a body.
Another historian Jim Conway said the gates are open 24 hours a day.
He said: “Perhaps the tranquillity of this beautiful place attracts the drug dealers, drinkers, dog foulers and vandals, I can only say that my outrage has been numbed at the stupidity and ignorance of not only those involved in the desecration and violation of this sacred place but also in those responsible for leaving the access in this precarious situation.”
Chief Inspector Jon Burrows said: “It was reported a number of gravestones were damaged, however, it’s not known exactly when the damage was caused.
“Criminal damage is never acceptable, however, this is particularly upsetting for those who spend time tending graves of their loved ones only to find them vandalised..
“If anyone in the area is concerned about antisocial behaviour or any sort of criminal activity, please contact us on the non-emergency number 101 quoting reference 512 of 14/12/18.”
Alternatively information can be provided anonymously through the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.