Public to get sneak peek at cathedral restoration
MAJOR progress has been made in the restoration of Longford's iconic cathedral, which was gutted by fire on Christmas Day 2009.
St Mel's Cathedral will be opened later this month for one day only, to give the public the opportunity to see the work so far done.
The outer roof has been repaired and 28 new limestone columns have replaced the ones that were shattered by the heat of the fire, which broke out in the early hours of Christmas morning in 2009.
Fire crews later discovered that the fire started in an old chimney flue and spread to the sacristy, and the blaze is being treated as an accident.
"The entire cathedral was devastated, and every single item was destroyed," said project manager Niall Maher.
The final cost of the restorations is estimated at €30m, with the contractors taking the opportunity to modernise the cathedral.
Insurance payouts will cover most of these costs, along with around €1m in contributions to the "Friends of St Mel's" restoration fund, which was set up after members of the public expressed interest in supporting the rebuild.
"We're replacing everything to modern standards, as well as adding in lifts for disabled access," said Mr Maher.
Work is also being done to restore interior walls, and a new floor has been laid.
The stained glass windows have been removed and sent to two stained glass artists for cleaning and repairs, Jim Scanlon in Kerry and Kim Joong, who is based in Paris.
Each artist will need 12 months to work on the windows, and the team hope the church will be reopened in time to host Christmas Midnight Mass in 2014.
In the meantime, mass is being held in the gymnasium of St Mel's College.
The cathedral will be opened on September 29 as part of St Mel's Festival, a Gathering event.
Members of the design team will be on hand to take the public through the restoration process.
"The last time the public were let in, it was to examine the wreckage of the cathedral," said Mr Maher.
They are reaching out to those involved in restoration work in particular to come and view what is believed to be the largest restoration of a cathedral in western Europe.