Bishop Colm OReilly has spoken at two recents events about the aftermath of the devastating Christmas Day fire in St Mel’s Cathedral and the planned restoration.

Vigil Mass in the Temperance Hall, Longford

beside St Mels Cathedral – 7:30pm Saturday 6 February 2010

On the morning of Christmas Day last, a fire at St Mels Cathedral destroyed the interior of the building along with most of its furnishings and fittings. I thank God that no life was lost nor person hurt by this devastating fire.

Diocesan Museum

Among the material damaged by the fire were the contents of the Diocesan Museum, located at the rear of the cathedral. Assembled in the 1930s and 40s by the late Fr Michael Kearney, President of St Mels College, the collection was moved to the cathedral in 1974.

The collection included almost 500 items and ranked among the finest ecclesiastical museums in the country, containing a varied collection of ecclesiastical material as well as objects of archaeological, historical and ethnographical interest. It included a number of objects of national importance, including the ninth-century Crozier of St Mel, patron of the diocese, which was found at Ardagh, Co Longford in the nineteenth century. Of equal importance was the Shrine of St Caillinn of Fenagh, Co Leitrim a book shrine dated to 1536 and associated with Brian ORourke, Lord of Breifne along with the twelfth-century Clog na Rgh bell of the kings also associated with St Caillinn. Of particular local interest were a number of ceremonial keys and trowels used in commemorating the foundations of the Cathedral and other parish churches in the diocese.

Recovered Items – National Museum

It seemed at first that the entire contents of the museum had perished in the fire. I am therefore pleased to be able to announce that thanks to the efforts of a team from the National Museum of Ireland who have been working at the site for the last few weeks a significant number of objects have survived and have been recovered. All have suffered fire damage and it is not yet clear how they will appear after conservation. Among the objects recovered are the Shrine of St Caillinn which is largely intact and a portion of the Crozier of St Mel. The discovery of the latter is particularly poignant today the feast day of our patron saint. Among the other objects found were an early iron hand-bell from Wheery, Co Offaly and a thirteenth-century crozier made at Limoges in France. Regrettably, the collection of vestments, penal crosses, altar vessels of pewter and silver, and works in paper were lost.

In all over 200 objects have been recovered and these have now been removed to a stable environment at the National Museum of Ireland for safekeeping while their condition is currently being assessed. The National Museum is working closely with the Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnois to develop a conservation strategy for the objects recovered.

I would like to take this opportunity to extend my heartfelt thanks to the Director of the Museum, Dr Pat Wallace, and his staff for their prompt offer of assistance and for all their work to date in the recovery of the material.

As 7 February is the Feast Day of St Mel, the patron saint of the Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnois, I thought it opportune to bring you this good news of hope during this challenging time for all of us.

Address to the County Longford Association in London

Crown Moran Hotel, Cricklewood, Broadway, London
5th February 2010

Ladies and gentlemen, when I accepted your invitation to come to this function, I had no premonition that I would need to be here because of the horrendous fire which ravished our Cathedral on Christmas Day. I thank God that no life was lost nor person hurt by this fire.

As I am sure most of you know by now, in the space of four hours or so the entire interior of one of the most beautiful buildings in Ireland was reduced to ashes. The City of London is no stranger to the kind of devastation that a huge fire can cause. We can learn from the approach of people of London regarding the spirit of hope and the enthusiasm which characterised the renewal of this great city in times of difficulty. An outcome of the Great Fire of London in 1666 was the rebuilding of the city and the design of some of its richest architectural heritage. Whilst nor compromising its historical significance, is it too much to hope that we might have a counterpart of the London tragedy and its aftermath in the restoration of St Mels Cathedral to its former glory?

I am very privileged to be able to be here in person and to update you on what has been happening back in Longford. As you probably know, we are fortunate that the well known and much admired portico and campanile of the Cathedral are still standing. In fact the front of the Cathedral looks more or less as it was before the fire of the early hours of Christmas morning last. The main walls are generally sound too. And work goes on in making safe and propping up areas that might cause problems in the future. Soon a temporary roof will be constructed in order to save the building from further damage due to intake of rain.

On the morning of Christmas Day the day when the media focus on the Church is as the gathering of families and communities to celebrate the wonderful Feast of the Nativity I was interviewed by Ciaran Mullooley, RT televisions Midlands Correspondent on the destructive fire which had taken place only hours earlier. It was an emotional interview, almost surreal in the context of the special day. However I was acutely aware that there now existed a very real challenge to the faith community and to everyone who holds dear a love of Longford.

Ciaran Mullooley asked me the question : Will the Cathedral be restored? In answer to him I said to him : It most certainly will. Ever since Christmas Day messages of sympathy have been coming in and many of these have been accompanied by words of support and encouragement for our commitment to restoration. Many of those who wrote letters also included a donation .

I spoke with total confidence when I said I knew that the Cathedral would be restored. That confidence was not based on any assurance that we had enough money or would have enough money available to us to carry out the work of restoration. I was going much more on the goodwill and enthusiasm which I knew for certain would be in our community. Many people of course are now asking the question : Will we have enough money available to us to restore the Cathedral? I have no doubt that we will, eventually. We are well insured and our insurance company is being most helpful in every possible way at this stage.

We have not sought to encourage fundraising events. We have been receiving voluntary donations, as I have said, and are most grateful for these. All such donations are being put into a reserve fund to be used apart from money provided under insurance claim. The money in the reserve fund will be very important for enhancement work which can be carried out in the Cathedral and its environs and to improve services associated with the Cathedral in time to come.

Of course, the story of the destruction of the Cathedral in 2009 will be forever a dark chapter in its wonderful history. The interior of the Cathedral just now looks somewhat like what Coventry Cathedral must have looked like when it was bombed during the Second World War. I would be hesitant, I have to say, about showing pictures of it to yourselves. It is painful to view them

However, all is not bad news by any means. The two finest stained glass windows by Harry Clark Studios can be repaired and indeed all the windows have been so well copied that they can be replaced exactly as they were. Quite remarkably the very old painting of the Holy Family in a side chapel escaped the fire and a number of other things were also saved. Many people welcomed the news that in the Tabernacle the sacred hosts were undamaged by fire.

With the passing of time I have quite lost track of the number of people who have been asking me this question : What can I do to help? Some people in this room tonight may want to ask that same question . To as many as possible I would like to give a straightforward answer : Be messengers of hope. St Mels Cathedral will be back. It will be impossible to restore it to the way it was before the fire, of course.

A Cathedral is a lot more than an elegant and beautiful building. Always remember, I tell people, that any church large or small is first and foremost a place for prayer and for worship of God. A sacred place to be in the presence of Our Lord. The beauty of every church and every fine Cathedral is for a purpose, to lift our minds to what transcends the material world to the world of the spirit. St Mels Cathedral needs to be a Cathedral for the future as well as for the present. It must be a place where people long after our time will continue to worship in spirit and in truth, as Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well.

I thank you for your attention this evening.