Top

Destruction of Band Hall an “attack on the whole community”

January 4, 2011

By Brónagh Murphy

Members of Cullyhanna Youth Band committee have described as “soul-destroying” the deliberate arson attack on their band hall just days before Christmas.

Thousands of pounds worth of musical instruments and uniforms belonging to the band were destroyed in the fire at the premises on Tullinavall Road, which was discovered in the early hours of Tuesday December 21st.  Fire crews from Crossmaglen, Newtownhamilton, Newry and Keady were called on to tackle the blaze, which completely gutted the two-storey building.

Band committee members have spoken of their heartbreak at witnessing the destruction caused by the attack and local politicians have described it as “an attack on the whole community”.

The fire caused tens of thousands of pounds worth of damage and the estimated value of the band equipment and uniforms alone is believed to be greater than £10,000.  Other valuable contents included a multi-media system, sports equipment and irreplaceable items such as photographs and trophies.

Chairperson Felix Toner says the destruction of the hall is a major set back to the band and he is at a loss as to why anyone would destroy such an asset to the small community in Cullyhanna.

“It took an enormous amount of hard work and fundraising to get the band hall up and running and it has proved to be a valuable asset to the village since it was built in 2007.  Apart from the building being used for weekly band practice, in recent months a number of other classes had commenced.  We had secured the services of world champion Line Dancer, Fiona Murray, who had been holding very successful weekly dance classes in the hall.  There were also Irish language and drama classes.  Now alternative venues have to be found for all of these.  It is soul-destroying and a major blow to community life here,” he said.

Just two days beforehand, more than fifty children and their parents enjoyed a Christmas party in the Band Hall where Santa arrived to distribute presents to everyone.  This event was also attended by Mayor of Newry and Mourne District Council, Mick Murphy and demonstrated the important focus of community life the band hall provided.

Appreciation

Mr Toner paid tribute to the support the committee and those closely associated with the hall have received since the fire.  He thanked St. Patrick’s GFC and Mr Pat O’Hanlon, Principal of St. Patrick’s Primary School, for their offers of the use of their premises.

“We have been inundated with messages of support, which has been overwhelming, and we are extremely grateful to everyone,” Mr Toner said.

Recently the Youth Band had achieved charitable  status, paving the way to seek funding to secure the future of the band.  It is hoped that the loss of their premises will not jeopardise any such funding, he added.

Commemoration

The fire occurred just a week before the twentieth anniversary of Fergal Caraher was to be commemorated in the village.  Twenty-year-old Fergal was shot dead by the British army in the village on December 30th 1990.  An exhibition in his honour was to be staged in the Band Hall and many of the artefacts to be included in this were also lost in the fire.  However, the exhibition and commemoration went ahead as planned and was held in the clubrooms of St. Patrick’s GFC.

Political condemnation

Condemning those responsible for the attack, MP Conor Murphy said: “I am at a loss as to the mentality of people who would carry out an attack such as this on a community facility.  This is an attack on the whole community of Cullyhanna and a valuable asset, which was built as a result of extensive local fundraising, has been destroyed.

“It is even more poignant to think that the local Cullyhanna Youth Band uses this hall regularly.  One of the founder members of the Youth Band, Fergal Caraher, was brutally murdered near to the site of this hall 20 years ago.  It is an affront to his memory that the Band Hall would be targeted in this fashion particularly as an event to commemorate the 20th anniversary of his murder was to be held in this very hall.”

Voicing his condemnation, Councillor Colman Burns added: “The people of Cullyhanna are really outraged at what has been done to the band hall.  This was the work of criminals and this is the way in which the people who carried out this attack are viewed by local people.  What makes this even worse is that the band had instruments and memorabilia stored in the hall, some of which can never be replaced.

“Obviously this latest attack is another failed attempt by this gang to create tension and fear.  As with other attacks on this community over the years, it will not be successful.  This gang must realise that this community is strong and resilient and refuses to be intimidated by thugs.”

Bottom