The theft of a tourist information board in Bessbrook has been described an a “mindless act of criminal vandalism”.
The board had been in place at the Pond and helped explain to visitors the rich history of the area and its proud association with the local linen industry.
It had been put in place close to the public art flax flower sculpture, again celebrating the area’s linen links.
The Chairperson of the Ring of Gullion Landscape Partnership – which had only recently erected the signage – is Des Murphy.
He slammed those responsible.
“The sculpture drew great attention both from locals and visitors alike,” said Mr Murphy. “People from as far away as the USA and Europe contacted us to praise it.
“The information board was erected to highlight the rich history of Bessbrook, the Pond and the local area. Its removal has deeply frustrated those of us people from all ages and backgrounds who are working together through art to encourage people to reach across boundaries.
“We view it as a mindless act of criminal vandalism.”
Mr Murphy explained what the public arts project had set out to achieve, adding: “The public art is part of the Ring of Gullion Landscape Partnership, a Heritage Lottery Fund programme to conserve and enhance some of the region’s most treasured landscapes.
“Newry, Mourne and Down District Council are managing the £1.4 million programme. The scheme aims to engage people with the Ring of Gullion Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and surrounding landscape.”
He pointed to the opening verse of ‘The Ballad of Camlough River’, by James N Richardson, which was used as inspiration when designing the sculpture by artist Alan Burke for the Mill Pond, which runs…“know ye the fame of the bright little river, Which floweth through Bessbrook from moorland and lea, Between blue waving flax-flowers and rushes which quiver, He runs his short course from the lake to the sea.”
Mr Murphy said: “This opening verse sets the scene of the origins of Camlough river. The river that flows from Camlough lake, born of fire and ice, to be harnessed at Bessbrook Pond to power the mill in Bessbrook, which in turn drove the local economy, forging communities and a social scene that survives to this day.
“Key to this all is the flax plant. Without it, the river may have run its course to the sea largely unmentioned. The production, processing and eventual weaving of the fibre from this plant is why the river rose to fame.
“The geography of the area, the quality of the water and the ability to grow flax locally, conspired to grow the linen industry in the locality of Bessbrook.”
If anyone who has any information on the whereabouts of the sign they are urged to come forward so that it might be recovered and placed back in its rightful place.