Gardaí examining cathedral ruins

 

Gardaí have begun their on-site investigation of the remains of St Mel’s Cathedral in Longford town, which was destroyed by fire early on Christmas Day.

Following confirmation that the ruins of the building were structurally safe, forensic investigators began examining the cathedral today with the help of a 20-metre crane and safety cage.

Precious and irreplaceable artefacts which were on display at the diocesan ecclesiastical museum at the cathedral were destroyed in the fire.

Raghnall Ó Floinn, head of collections at the National Museum of Ireland, said there were some important pieces among the 500 or so kept at the diocesan museum at the cathedral.

The most important were the Crozier of St Mel, the patron saint of the Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise, dating from the 10th century, and also the book shrine of St Caillin, dating to 1536.

"It was associated with St Caillin, the patron saint of Fenagh in Co Leitrim. It has an inscription saying it was made by Brian O’Rourke and his wife Margaret O’Brien in the year 1536," Mr Ó Floinn said.

"The inscription was in Irish, which is very unusual. It was the last of the book shrines, which were decorated covers made for books, dating back to around the time of the Reformation. We had it in the museum and we have a full photographic record of it and a colleague had it for study. It’s a major piece. I think it’s a terrible tragedy, a great loss of medieval material.”

Also in the collection was St Caillin’s Bell, known as the Bell of Fenagh.

Mr Ó Floinn said experts from the National Museum we will be assisting the forensic investigators on site in Longford.

Mayor of Longford Peggy Nolan said she believed it would be several days before gardaí had concluded the examination. She believed the general public were providing full support as the investigation continued, but that there was currently no firm indication of how the fire had started.