Church can meet cost of St Mel's restoration -- bishop
Published 08/02/2010 | 05:00
the Catholic Church will be able to meet the multi-million euro bill to restore St Mel's Cathedral in Longford, a bishop vowed last night.
It is estimated that refurbishing the building, which was destroyed by a fire on Christmas Day last year, will cost between €2m and €8m.
But Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise Dr Colm O'Reilly said he had "no doubt" this sum could be provided through an insurance payout and voluntary donations.
The 19th century cathedral became engulfed in flames around 4.45am on December 25 after a fire started in the back of the building.
Stained glass windows, including famous works by artist Harry Clarke, and the diocesan museum were destroyed.
One of the most devastating results of the fire was the loss of the roof, which collapsed.
"Many people, of course, are now asking the question, will we have enough money available to us to restore the cathedral," Dr O'Reilly told the annual dinner of the County Longford Association in London yesterday.
"I have no doubt that we will eventually. We are well insured and our insurance company is being most helpful in every possible way."
The bishop said while the church had not sought to encourage fundraising events, it had been receiving voluntary donations.
"All such donations are being put into a reserve fund to be used apart from money provided under the insurance claim," Dr O'Reilly said. "The money in the reserve fund will be very important for the 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."
Dr O'Reilly pointed out that over 200 objects had been recovered from the fire and were being restored by the National Museum. The Shrine of St Caillinn, a book shrine dated to 1536, and a portion of the Crozier of St Mel were largely intact, he said.
An early iron hand-bell from Wheery, Co Offaly, and a 13th-century crozier made at Limoges in France had also been found.
He said the items, which once made up part of the 500-object-strong diocesan museum, had since been removed to a stable environment at the National Museum of Ireland for safekeeping while their condition was being assessed.
The bishop also insisted that the structure had survived the worst of the fire. The portico and campanile of the cathedral were still standing and the main walls were generally sound, he said.
"Soon a temporary roof will be constructed in order to save the building from further damage due to intake of rain," he said. "The two finest stained glass windows by Harry Clark Studios can be repaired and the windows have been so well copied they can be replaced exactly as they were.
"The destruction of the cathedral in 2009 will forever be a dark chapter in its wonderful history. But St Mel's will be back," Dr O'Reilly promised.