Old grudges die hard in the Leap of the Dog


A clergyman forced out of Limavady in the 1980s will not be granted the freedom of the borough, after unionist councillors voted against the move.

Reverend David Armstrong left the town after a backlash from within his Presbyterian church over his decision to shake hands with a Catholic priest.

He received loyalist death threats over his Christmas message of goodwill to Catholic counterpart Fr Kevin Mullen.

The vote for the SDLP motion was 8-6, but a two-thirds majority was needed.

Fr Mullan said he was “disappointed” at the outcome.

“Neither David nor I asked for this, and when we heard about it we were honoured.

“If it had gone through it would have been momentous.

“The fact that some people have felt it’s inappropriate or untimely I think is a little disappointing.

“There was an opportunity to heal a wound that had been there that had been causing hurt,” he said.

The Presbyterian Moderator, the Reverend Donald Patton, said more groundwork was needed.

“I think the issue shows that we do have a lot of work to do to build understanding and trust and respect across our community.

“We’ve come out of a very difficult situation, and we’re glad that we have put the violence by and large behind us, but we’ve got to work on relationships.

“Maybe the timing for this particular proposal wasn’t quite right, and maybe more groundwork needed to be done,” he said.

After leaving the town, Mr Armstrong retrained as an Anglican minister and is now based at a Church of Ireland parish in County Cork.

Unfortunately, this whole incident back in 1984 is still one of the things Limavady is known for to outsiders, and 24 years later – after a decade and a half of the peace process – one would have thought that trying to efface the memory would be, well, a fitting thing to do. But apparently not. The whole thing was a disgrace from start to finish – all Rev Armstrong did was to go to the local Catholic church on Christmas Day and offer greetings to the congregation. For that small gesture, he faced a sectarian revolt in his own congregation, and ended up being drummed out of town. The pusillanimous leadership of the Presbyterian Church offered him no support whatsoever, and he couldn’t find another Presbyterian congregation in the whole of Ireland willing to take him. If this sort of thing hasn’t happened more often, it’s only because the initial gesture hasn’t been made more often. An instructive counterpoint, then, to the usual happy-clappy scenes of our church leaders.

As for Limavady’s unionist councillors, it might have been expected that they might abstain – a high proportion of them are steeped in anti-Romanist fundamentalism, after all – but voting against? Do they not realise how that makes them look, or do they just not care?


  1. Liam said,

    September 30, 2008 at 9:36 pm

    They know exactly how it makes them look to their voters and that’s why they do it.

  2. ejh said,

    October 1, 2008 at 8:09 am

    Maybe. Or maybe, you know, small towns, longstanding feuds, people don’t like to back down when they see the people they’d be losing face to in the street every other day.

  3. skidmarx said,

    October 1, 2008 at 8:56 am

    Probably not a major candidate for Most Oppressed Prelate Ever

  4. ejh said,

    October 1, 2008 at 11:31 am

    This might be a good place to post the story that appears in the last paragraph here….

  5. October 1, 2008 at 1:39 pm

    probably the local unionists/loyalists regard Armstrong not only as an “enemy” but also as a “traitor” to their cause and the hatred against “traitors” is always stronger as the hatred against “normal enemies” … and was among the high-profile republicans/nationalists killed by loyalist death squads not a relatively high percentage of people from a “protestant background (e.g. John Turnley, Ronnie Bunting, Noel Lyttle)?

  6. almata said,

    October 1, 2008 at 2:32 pm

    Nearly 15 years after the New Dispensation here’s another story from the BBC on the North’s progress:

    Pupils leave ‘integrated school’

    Parents objecting to a County Antrim primary school becoming integrated have taken their children away from the school.

    The principal of Ballymoney Model Primary said that 16 pupils have left since it was confirmed it will become integrated next September.

    Parents at the school voted for integrated status by a small majority.

    The Council for Integrated Education’s Michael Wardlow said the school had “a history of informal integration”.

    “In the model school, what they are trying to say is we want to make our school go back to first principles, but to be a school fit for purpose in the 21st century, welcoming all faiths and none.

    “And I would sincerely hope that maybe those parents would reconsider whether this couldn’t be a thing that they could agree with.”

    Some of the school governors have also voiced their opposition to the move, which has already been approved by the Department of Education.

  7. organic cheeseboard said,

    October 2, 2008 at 8:41 am

    off topic but one of the blokes nick cohen quoted in his last ratbiter piece has responded in the eye – turns out that nick, ahem, misread a few of his sources…

  8. splinteredsunrise said,

    October 2, 2008 at 9:12 am

    Yes, I noticed that, alongside another fairly feeble attempt to prove the SNP is in thrall to the Mozzies.

  9. Ciarán said,

    October 4, 2008 at 12:30 pm

    And a few days later, Limavady Council sets up a border patrol at the Foyle crossing between Derry and Donegal. What year is it up there?

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