Ice-cream van smashes into Church

Sinead Kelleher

Gardaí have yet to interview the driver of the ice-cream van that crashed through the front doors and automated interior doors at St John's Church in Tralee on Thursday, in an incident that has caused great amazement in the town.

Thousands of euros worth of damage was caused to the iconic building, with insurance assessors beginning their inspection of the scene on Monday morning. A 58-year-old man is currently receiving treatment in University Hospital Kerry following the incident and will be interviewed in relation to it at a later stage. 

Gardaí were called to the scene of the incident at around 9pm on Thursday night after the vehicle crashed through the front gates of the town's main church, and through two sets of doors, before grinding to a halt. 

The driver managed to reverse the van from the church entrance as gardaí pursued the vehicle through the town, into and through St Brendan's Park, before the driver was arrested in the nearby estate of Gallowsfield.  

The driver produced an imitation firearm on exiting the van, but a source stressed that there was no threat to gardaí during the incident.

The bizarre event has caused widespread shock in Tralee. Parishioners, who arrived to attend mass at 8am on Friday morning, were among the first to see the damage. They were able to access the church through a side door which remains in use, with full repairs due on the main entrance. 

The ice-cream van drove through the front gates of the church. The front door was also damaged but the most significant damage was to the internal automatic doors, which were destroyed in the incident.

Glass and debris littered the scene on Friday morning. This included debris from the ice-cream van, broken glass and wooden splinters. The damaged doors, which were installed for disability access, won an accessibility award for recently.   

St John's curate Fr Bernard Healy said, "It is very upsetting for the parish. Thankfully nobody was injured and the artistic and cultural heritage was not damaged. Doors can be repaired with much greater ease than some of the artistic treasures we have here in St John's." 

Sacristan David Hegarty arrived at the scene shortly after. He said that the cost of the damage is as yet unknown. 

"Apparently a van came through the main gates, came up at speed through the drive, through the main doors and through the automatic doors and smashed them completely. We have no idea what the damage is yet."

A parish secretary was among the first to the scene, hearing the loud bang while working in the parish centre nearby at the time.