News Letter
19 March 2012

Drums which had been set alight burning holes in the hall floor.

A TYRONE pipe band was forced to borrow drums to attend St Patrick’s Day parades in the Republic at the weekend after a number of their instruments were destroyed in an arson attack.

Drums belonging to Augharonan Pipe Band – valued at £8,000 – were damaged in the deliberate blaze at an Orange hall near Seskinore.

The rural property was targeted last Thursday night but police only revealed details at the weekend.

It is understood that the perpetrators gained entry to the building through a window, before starting the fire.

As well as the damage to up to a dozen drums, the main hall also sustained scorch and smoke damage.

Pipe major Jim McElrath said despite members’ “devastation” at the loss of their percussion instruments, the band was determined to proceed with its St Patrick’s Day itinerary.

The band – a regular participant at cross-community events – has attended the annual parades in Sligo and Ballymote for the past decade.

“We salvaged a couple of pieces out of the drum kit,” he told the News Letter.

“We managed to drum on them yesterday (Saturday) and we borrowed some from another band to help us out.”

Hitting out the perpetrators, Mr McElrath said: “We have come through 40 years of IRA bombing and shooting and we had negligible damage to the hall. But there is a more sinister element now and we never had problems until the last couple of years.”

However, Mr McElrath said the band and lodge have been heartened by messages of support from across the community divide since the incident.

“It makes us more determined to go on. A lady rang me today from the other side of the community who read the news on Teletext and she was absolutely devastated.”

Despite their misfortune, Augharonan won a prize for their participation on Saturday.

Gordon Crawford, a member of Augharonan LOL 462, admitted the hall could have been razed to the ground had the fire not extinguished itself. “It was a blessing,” he said. “They obviously intended to burn it to a cinder.”

Mr Crawford also revealed that the hall was targeted last year. In July, windows were broken at the property prior to the Twelfth.

A spokesman for the Orange Grand Lodge also condemned those behind the attack.

The Seskinore blaze came only days after a separate incident at Benraw Orange Hall, near Castlewellan. Last weekend, the hall sustained minor damage after a petrol bomb was thrown at the building.

DUP MLA Tom Buchanan also slammed the latest Orange attack. “An attack such as this is not only an attack motivated by sectarian hatred but it is also an attack on a community facility in a rural area,” he said.

“It is very disappointing that there are a still a small number of people who cannot live in peace with their neighbours and that they have marked the St Patrick’s weekend with an attack on the minority Protestant community in west Tyrone.”

A PSNI spokesman urged anyone with information about the incident to contact police in Omagh on 0845 600 8000.