A County Armagh community group has hit out at the “bizarre” sale of a local plot of land to a private individual, despite the field being earmarked for a new community centre at the behest of the late owner.
The 10-acre field on the Quarter Road in Camlough was left to the parish of Lower Killeavy by the late Mrs Betsy Doyle, who passed away in 2004, at the age of 83. She said in her will that the plot was to be given to the village to build a community centre.
However, since Mrs Doyle’s passing, there has been a long-running battle to make her last request a reality, including a civil case.
The Camlough Community Association (CCA) launched a new Facebook page with the aim to “protect and ensure the Community Centre site is used for the purposes that it was intended”.
In a post on Facebook, the group said: “CCA have fought a long battle, including a high court case, to ensure that this land is used for the purposes it was intended by Mrs Doyle. CCA is committed to achieving this objective and ensuring that Camlough gets a new purpose built community centre for all of its residents.”
To this end, a public meeting is to take place at the field on Sunday, August 13 at 2pm to allow the community’s voices to be heard regarding the site.
The saga of the community site in Camlough has been ongoing for a number of years, says Councillor Declan Murphy, Chairman of the Camlough Community Association.
Councillor Murphy argues that the presence of a community centre in the village is vital, with Camlough among the only towns and villages in the wider Newry, Mourne and Down council area left without.
Speaking to Armagh I, he said: “We have a growing population of elderly people and we have a lot of mothers and toddlers coming into the area with simply nowhere to go. If you don’t play football, there’s very little else to do.
“There’s absolutely no doubt that there’s a need,” he added. “The dispute here at the minute is really with the trustees and what they did with the land. We were under the very strong impression that after re-zoning it, and after signing an agreement, that it was going to be used for what Betsy Doyle had wanted it to be used for – the building of the community centre.”
Following Mrs Doyle’s passing, the Catholic Church had put in an application for the land to be developed into private houses, which was challenged by the CCA.
The case was taken to court, which concluded in December 2008, with the result being that how the land was to be used was a matter for the trustees and not the Catholic Church.
Following a number of meetings, a Deed of Transfer was signed and a portion of the land, belonging to the CCA, was zoned for community use only.
On the back of this, CCA lodged a planning application, which was approved at the end of 2022. However, in June 2023 it was discovered that the entrance to the site had been blocked off with bollards.
Said Councillor Murphy: “Once we made enquiries as to how that happened, we were then informed that, without any consultation, without any notice to anybody within the community, that the land was sold off by the trustees to a private individual.
“This cannot happen because people were entrusted to fulfil the wishes of Betsy Doyle. That certainly hasn’t happened. We also had an agreement between all the parties, which we signed in the presence of solicitors. How can you just ride roughshod over that?”
He added: “Whoever made the decision to sell all of this land we are not 100% sure. I know that the trustees had sole discretion to use the land, but subject to making sure that it went to the benefit of the community. On the back of that they had an agreement with the community which they have just totally and absolutely ignored.”
Councillor Murphy says that the purpose of the upcoming meeting is to give “clarity” to the community regarding the situation and to gauge public opinion.
“If there’s going to be a legal case, we’ll have to finance it ourselves, so we need to make sure that everybody is on board and the community knows what’s happening,” he added.
You can follow the developments of this campaign through the ‘Hands Off Camlough Community Site’ Facebook page.