Mass to be celebrated in St Mel's for first time since 2009 fire

Building transformed following €30m restoration project

Five years after it was virtually destroyed by a fire, St Mel’s Cathedral in Longford has risen from the ashes, just in time for Christmas. Video: Bryan O'Brien


Mass will be celebrated at St Mel’s Cathedral in Longford today for the first time in five years after the completion of a €30 million project to restore it following a devastating fire.

Parish administrator Fr Tom Healy, who will celebrate the first Mass at the restored cathedral, said the mood in the community was akin to “Longford winning the All-Ireland” after the end of the restoration, which has been described as the largest of its kind in Europe.

He recalled the bewilderment and grief of the community after fire turned the cathedral into “a towering inferno” in the hours after midnight Mass on Christmas Eve 2009.

The cathedral was unveiled by the bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise, Dr Francis Duffy, who paid tribute to his predecessor, Bishop Colm O’Reilly, for spearheading the project.

Dr Duffy said it had been a story of transformation “from a shell to the beautiful and elegant sacred place we have today”. After the listed building crumbled under the ferocious temperatures, Bishop O’Reilly had pledged that it would be restored. “I am thrilled,” he said.

Voluntary contributions

The majority of the €30 million cost was funded by an insurance settlement, while €1 million was raised from voluntary contributions. Among the many notable features of the restored building are a Carrara marble altar sculpted by Tom Glendon and a silver tabernacle created by Imogen Stuart and Vicki Donovan. The cathedral also holds a pipe organ, consisting of 2,307 pipes, built by Fratelli Ruffatti, of Padua, Italy and stained glass windows designed by Paris-based artist Kim en Joong, a Dominican priest.

Lead architect Colm Redmond said that while it was important to preserve as much as possible of the protected structure, they also set out to create a cathedral for the third millennium: hence the introduction of many new features in the light-filled building.

With the roof, floor and much of the structure destroyed by the fire, the team had only half a dozen historic drawings and about a dozen photographs to work from.

He said one of the main engineering challenges of the project was the replacement of the 28 stone columns.