Priest left traumatised as arson attack destroys parish office

Aileen Hahesy

Reporter:

Aileen Hahesy

Fr. Richard Geoghegan stands at a burnt first floor room in the Presbytery in Castle Street, Carrick-on-Suir. A fire engulfed the building in the early hours of Sunday Morning 31st May.
Gardai believe an arson attack was responsible for the fire that destroyed St Nicholas Parish Office in Carrick-on-Suir and caused some structural and extensive smoke damage to the adjoining presbytery over the June Bank Holiday Weekend.

Gardai believe an arson attack was responsible for the fire that destroyed St Nicholas Parish Office in Carrick-on-Suir and caused some structural and extensive smoke damage to the adjoining presbytery over the June Bank Holiday Weekend.

Some of St Nicholas Parish’s death and Confirmation records and the records of the parish’s Community Employment Scheme that was based at the office were destroyed in the blaze in the early hours of Sunday, May 31.

St Nicholas Parish curate Fr Richard Geoghegan, the presbytery’s only resident, said the records were stored in the Parish Office’s filing cabinet and on its computer. They included records of deaths in St Nicholas Parish dating back to around 1980 and records of Confirmations in the parish over the past few years.

He was luckily staying with his family in Dungarvan on the night of the fire. The blaze has deeply upset Fr Geoghegan and he said it was very disconcerting to think somebody started it deliberately.

He believes he wouldn’t have survived if he had been in the house that night. “If I was in the house I would certainly be buried now. I wouldn’t have been able to get out because of where the fire was. I would have been trying to get out the back door and going towards the smoke as the front door is always locked and the key was in the office.”

After viewing the fire damage, Fr Geoghegan said he can’t bring himself to visit the presbytery again at the moment and confessed he broke down in tears last Wednesday while driving out of Carrick-on-Suir to stay with family in Dungarvan rather returning to his home for the past 14 years. “I am at a stage where I just can’t go to the house. I want to wait until it’s cleared up a bit. It’s very traumatic after 14 years and having spent every day in the parish office to see it burned.”

He paid tribute to Jim Hawkins, supervisor of the Community Employment Scheme, for his quick action in raising the alarm after going to the presbytery in the early hours of Sunday, May 31 when the phonewatch burglar alarm went off. His actions prevented the fire spreading to the rest of the presbytery.

“Only for Jim acted so quickly the fire would have spread through the building. The fire fighters did contain it to to the parish office though it will take a long time to get the presbytery cleaned up and back to some liveable state.”

Fr Geoghegan will move to temporary rented accommodation in Carrick until the presbytery is renovated. The parish office has moved to the Nano Nagle Community Resource Centre and is open as normal five days a week from 9am to 5pm Monday to Thursday and 9am to 4pm on Fridays. As diaries have been destroyed any family who had booked a Baptism is asked to get in touch to rebook.

He thanked the Nagle Centre for accommodating the parish office and the Bank of Ireland in Carrick for donating supplies of stationery to assist in getting the office back up and running.

Fr Geoghegan said he very much encouraged by the support he has received from the people of Carrick-on-Suir. A lot of messages of support have been posted on his popular Facebook page “Things I Miss About Carrick.”.

“The outpouring of support and love is a great help but I still find it traumatic to think what might have been. I do appreciate very much the goodness, goodwill and prayers from people.”

Carrick on Suir Gardaí confirmed that the fire is a suspected arson and the matter is now under investigation.