Northern Ireland

Stolen historic records returned to Fermanagh church

Rev Alastair Donaldson holding the church register books
Image caption Rev Alastair Donaldson holding the church register books

The return of historic church records stolen from a rectory in County Fermanagh has been described as "a mini miracle".

The registers were in a safe that was taken from the Church of Ireland rectory in Derrylin in November.

They included baptism, marriage and funeral records and were described as "irreplaceable".

Reverend Alastair Donaldson said the records carried little monetary value, but great sentimental importance.

As reported in the Belfast Telegraph on Thursday, the congregation of Kinawley and Holy Trinity parish had been praying they would be found.

Speaking to BBC News NI, Rev Donaldson said police and forensic officers had come out to examine the scene, but that in the days that followed "the investigation went quiet".

Image caption The water-damaged cover of the church's register of baptisms

"As a church we would have been praying a wee bit about them, you know, could they possibly be returned, what are the chances?" he said.

"Realistically, they could have been in the bottom of Lough Erne."

Late on Christmas Eve, he was sent a text message from a man in County Kildare.

On Christmas Day, Rev Donaldson read the message to his congregation.

"Your records have been found in bogland on the County Offaly/County Kildare border and I would like to arrange the return of them," it stated.

Image caption Derrylin Church of Ireland officials Simon Bullock and Charlie Surphlis with Rev Alastair Donaldson

The documents, discovered by a man walking his dog and given to a local historian, were returned to Derrylin last Friday.

"Nobody better could have found the records," Rev Donaldson told the BBC.

"In the weeks between him telling us about that and them actually coming back on Friday, he'd dried them out, he maintained them as best as he could.

"They had a couple of trips back to the bog to see if there were other things in the safe that I had alerted them too."

'Prayers answered'

The books have suffered some damage from being exposed to the elements for almost eight weeks, but it is hoped they can be restored.

"We gave them (the rescuers) the guided tour of the parish and had a lovely day with them and the man commented that 'to never have heard tell of Derrylin before it now seems as if it's such an important part of my life'," Rev Donaldson added.

The clergyman said their prayers "quite literally" had been answered.

"Because he sent the text message on Christmas Eve and I got it on Christmas Day morning for our two services here in Derrylin and Holy Trinity Crom, I was able to tell the congregation and say 'I have another Christmas present for you and you're going to really enjoy it'.

"It's a mini miracle and don't be too surprised, because miracles tend to happen at Christmas.

"There were some people who were completely gobsmacked - it was a lovely thing to be able to do.

"On Christmas Day Jesus was born into the world, and on Christmas Day the Derrylin records returned to base, so thank the Lord for that."

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