Restoration work on St Mel's Cathedral to begin shortly


THE RESTORATION of the fire-damaged St Mel’s Cathedral in Longford is due to begin in the coming weeks.

St Mel’s Cathedral project committee has, following a tendering process, sent a letter of intent to Longford building firm Gem Construction (in association with Purcell Construction of Galway) asking them to carry out work on the historic cathedral.

The cathedral, which opened in 1856, was gutted by a fire that began in a chimney flue, leading from a boiler, in the early hours of Christmas Day in 2009.

Select works are expected to begin in the next three weeks. The restoration work is currently restricted by an appeal lodged with An Bord Pleanála last April in relation to the replacement of the roof and the sub-floor.

Citing the letter of intent as a significant development, the chairman of the St Mel’s Cathedral project committee, Seamus Butler, said work will begin on parts of the building not under appeal with An Bord Pleanála.

This work includes the replacement of 26 limestone columns and pilasters, repairing external stonework around windows and replacing internal plaster up to ceiling level.

“We are confined because of the objection and the appeal to Bord Pleanála . . . [and] can only do works relating to section 57 of the Planning Act which refers to the restoration of a protected structure with exact like-for-like materials which, luckily, is a very substantial part of this project,” Mr Butler said.

An Bord Pleanála has carried out a site inspection and a decision is due by August 23rd, but a spokeswoman for the planning authority could not confirm whether a decision will be reached by that date.

Mr Butler said work has not been delayed on site as a result of the appeal.

“We are hoping for the appeal to be decided upon in the early autumn.

“If the outcome is positive it will allow for works to continue seamlessly on site.

“If it’s held up for a longer period there will be a hiatus in the works.”

Due to the commercial nature of the tendering process, the cost of the contract was not revealed but Mr Butler said the figure was “in the millions”.

Mr Butler, who is also the president of the chamber of commerce in Longford, said the awarding of the contract to a local company, after a competitive tendering process, was a positive step for the local economy and that it would lead to the creation of a number of jobs.

Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnois Colm O’Reilly said the target of a functioning cathedral for midnight Mass on Christmas Eve 2014 remains in place.