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Gutted church 'rises from the ashes' of blaze

A FIRE-ravaged church in the heart of Dublin is "rising from the ashes' with the help of the entire community.

The iconic St Catherine of Alexandra church on Meath Street is being lovingly restored after a catastrophic blaze in the Christmas crib on January 2.

Now a 'Sponsor A Slate' drive aims to raise thousands of extra euro for repair work.

"It's been a fantastic response. Out of disaster, comes hope," said parish priest Fr Niall Coghlan.

The church is at the heart of the community in the Liberties -- and Hollywood actor Martin Sheen mingled with locals when he went to Saturday evening Mass there two years ago.

Members of Meath Street parish and people in the wider community are paying €5 per slate. Each slate can be dedicated to a loved one or to celebrate an event in the sponsor's life. The names are being entered into a special book in the church.

As the fire started in the Nativity crib, most of the crib figures were "obliterated."

But the figures of the baby Jesus and the Virgin Mary were saved, if somewhat smoke damaged. The infant Jesus was the oldest statue in the crib and is believed to date from the 1850s.

Most of the church repair work, costing several million euro, is covered by insurance but the parish is left with a €150,000 shortfall.

"What is happening now is not just repair work to a church but a restoration of the parish itself. People have rallied around as they are determined to have their church back," said Fr Coghlan.

The Augustinian priest told the Herald previously how the damage was done. He said: "The fumes rose up into the apex of the roof where they reacted with oxygen which caused a big explosion.

"The big blast did most of the damage. The firemen did not need to do a lot to fight the fire itself," he said.

At first, it appeared the church organ and beautiful stained glass windows were irreparably damaged. But a painstaking examination completed revealed the organ and the windows could be saved.

A big stained glass window behind the main altar had to be shipped to Germany to receive specialist treatment. And 75 pc of the organ could be saved.

Slates cost €5 each and can be bought by contacting St Catherine's Parochial House on Meath Street, Dublin 8.