Church destroyed by blaze restored to its former glory
IT has been almost two years since St Catherine's Parish Church was destroyed in an arson attack.
But after a €4.1m renovation project, parishioners of the Augustinian church on Dublin's Meath Street will finally be able to return to their spiritual home this weekend.
"I was standing outside the parochial house on January 2, and Margaret McKenna -- one of the ladies from the parish -- came running across the road shouting," recalled Fr Niall Coghlan of the fire.
"By the time I got there it was too late, the church was already gone."
The Christmas crib in the church had been ignited by a homeless man, and when the firefighters opened the door to try to extinguish the flames, an inferno ripped through the building, destroying everything in its path in just 30 seconds.
"An explosion went from one end of the church to the other. Every single piece of the church was on fire. But the great thing is that nobody was hurt," Fr Coghlan explained.
The man who started the fire was found not guilty by reason of insanity after a trial in Dublin's Circuit Criminal Court. He is now believed to be in the Central Mental Hospital.
The renovation project was then undertaken on the 19th century building, and construction workers uncovered French limestone underneath the layers of melted paint.
The limestone pillars, along with the new parquet floor, have restored the building to its former glory.
The building's insurance policy covered the majority of the bill, but parishioners also helped to fundraise to cover the additional costs.
"We did a street collection, we had a night out at the dog racing, and we had participants in the women's mini marathon. We also held raffles. And, parishioners bought a slate for the roof, each slate was €5," he said.
Fr Coghlan dismissed the criticism that they have received for the hefty reconstruction bill, and said that the money used has also benefited the local economy.
"It might have cost €4.1m, but to the Irish economy, you can double that.
"We employed people for two years in a very bleak time. The local area benefited from the fact that there were so many people working in the church," the parish priest said.
Over the years, St Catherine's attracted several high profile mass-goers, including Imelda May and Hollywood actor Martin Sheen.
The church will host guided tours today and tomorrow, and on Sunday, the parishioners will be welcomed back with a special celebratory mass.
"I am looking forward to it for the people," Fr Coghlan said. "This is the people of Dublin's church. I think people will come here to pray, and I think it will lift your heart."