Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Hopes for Anamar community hub in ashes

By Diarmúid Pepper

The communities of Cullyhanna and Crossmaglen have been left devastated by a suspected arson attack on the old Anamar Primary School.

Firefighters and members of the PSNI attended to the incident which occurred on Friday morning.

The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service said that “the fire had been burning for some time and caused extensive damage to the school”.

The NIFRS added that the fire was brought under control by 10.16am and that the cause of the blaze is under investigation.

The PSNI also issued a statement in which it said it is treating the fire as deliberate and that investigations are on-going.

Local resident Sarah Armstrong, who heads ‘Friends of Anamar’ group that had been leading a campaign to have the school turned into a community centre, said that “the people of Anamar had been left heartbroken”.

Speaking to The Examiner, Sarah said: “This is an unimaginable turn to what has been a long and drawn out process to obtain the school and its grounds for community benefit.

“It is a huge blow to the community and to a cherished building that holds memories for so many. It has left behind a ruin, an eyesore and a bleak reminder of an unsolicited, reckless act.

“The members of the community and surrounding parish condemn this disgusting criminal act, and appeal to anyone who has information that may help the criminal investigation to come forward.”

Sarah said that her “hopes remain unbroken” in spite of the suspected arson attack.

She added: “This is a tragedy but has only pulled our community closer and has not deterred our visions. We now are awaiting a response from Bishop Michael Reuter in order to schedule a meeting.”

Councillor Terry Hearty also condemned the incident, saying that it was devastating to the community.

“The community is completely and utterly disgusted. There are people in the area whose grandparents and great-grandparents and generations before them went to school in Anamar. The school was of great importance,” Cllr Hearty told The Examiner.

“It was very much wanted for the Anamar school, when it couldn’t remain open, to be part of the community. The community is just shocked by this dirty and devastating attack.

“It could have been such a great hub, because it was allocated centrally between Crossmaglen and Cullyhanna, and people from all over could have used it that Centre.

“It is so frustrating. I had a great interest in seeing this project come to full fruition and I am heartbroken over it to be honest.”

Cllr Hearty is a supporter of ‘Friends of Anamar’ and has been working in unison with the group.

He said: “I have put my full support behind the Anamar residency group and we had been fighting hard to hold on to Anamar school to ensure that it stayed in the community and to ensure that it could be used. I talked to some of that group this morning and people had put their heart and soul into it.

“Their whole project was around the school building. The school would have been their hub. I talked to Sarah Armstrong and she was in tears and gutted over it. And several of the group are like that.

“It is heart-breaking. In South Armagh, we have a great community that is doing fantastic projects. But we have this small thuggish minority and I hope that the police leave no stone unturned in finding whoever done this.”

Cllr Hearty appealed for anyone who may have information about the incident to come forward to the police.

“Anyone in the area should check their CCTV and if there is any evidence of who is behind this, it should be taken to the PSNI. These thugs that will do an act like this, they are not part of the community.

“They are a criminal, thug element and it is disheartening to see so many people involved in doing good work, only for one or two thugs to set that back so much. For the community, I am devastated.”

The Fire Service had an extremely busy few hours in the early hours of Friday morning and Cllr Hearty paid tribute to the work that they do.

“I want to thank and praise the Fire Brigade [who] were out all night. They were out from two in the morning at a fire in Mullaghbawn. They were just back in Crossmaglen at around half seven when they got the call to go to Anamar,” the Sinn Féin councillor explained.

“They were there until 10am and they hadn’t had food or stopped all night. When we hear about cuts in the Fire Service and other areas, we need to stand up for our Fire Service. We have a fantastic Fire Service.  Their dedication is unbelievable and it just goes to show how much we need them.”

Police are appealing to anyone with information in relation to the incident that may help with their investigation to contact them on 101, quoting reference number 369 of 16/08/19.