Parishioners pick up pieces after church blitzed by blaze
"IT'S like a scene from the London Blitz in World War Two." Fr Niall Coghlan was describing the damage inflicted on the historic St Catherine's Church on Dublin's Meath Street by Monday's catastrophic fire.
Parish priest for over 10 years, Fr Coghlan said hundreds of years of history were destroyed in the blaze, which has left the local community in deep shock.
A 48-year-old man has been charged with arson in connection with the fire and was remanded in custody on Tuesday for one week to facilitate a psychiatric assessment.
Named after St Catherine of Alexandria, who was martyred on a wheel, the foundation stone was laid in 1852.
"It's one of the oldest parishes in Dublin, so people have connections with the church for generations. We had the oldest working organ in Dublin and now it is incinerated," said Fr Coghlan last night.
"There was a beautiful stained-glass window behind the high altar and that is completely destroyed.
"Over the decades they had been donated by families and had things like 'pray for the benefactor' written on them, so they carry a lot of historical weight.
"The fire started at the crib. The fire brigade told me that fumes from the crib then got trapped in the upper parts of the church.
"As soon as that area received oxygen, it ignited and sent a fireball from one end of the church to the other. So the real damage is up towards the ceiling of the church.
"It's the whole church that is ruined, not just the front. We've been told it is now a dangerous building and so we can't allow parishioners in to look at it.
"We'd be afraid of falling glass and there are probably toxic fumes in the air as well."
Fr Coghlan said St Catherine's had long been a cornerstone of the local community. He expects the rebuilding process to cost millions of euros and take years.
"We also run the church on Thomas Street -- commonly known as John's Lane Church -- which is the Augustinian church. We're moving literally around the corner to Thomas Street for the foreseeable future.
"I live in that community and they are really delighted to have us. It will be months if not years before this church is back to its former glory.
"People in the area are devastated; it really and truly is a people's church. They were very, very proud of the beauty that it was.
"We had the loss adjusters in and the insurance company but they're at the very beginning of the investigation. We have no idea of the cost but you're probably talking millions of euros. People are already trying to get things moving."
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, along with the Church of Ireland rector of St Catherine's on Thomas Street, Reverend Craig Cooney, offered their sympathies to Fr Coghlan after visiting the church on Tuesday.
"Archbishop Martin was here yesterday to view the church. He was very sympathetic and expressed his condolences to the people," said Fr Coghlan
"He was quite shocked by the extent of the damage. He didn't mention anything about the rebuilding process. It's not his field, nor is it mine."
The parish priest added: "We couldn't have asked for more support. People are on Facebook and some want to organise fundraisers but we don't want that at this moment in time. We're just dumbfounded by what's happened, it really is hard to take in."