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St Mel's restored to glory after five years

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Administrator Fr Tom Healy (right) pictured alongside the Bishop of Armagh and Clonmacnois Francis Duffy in the newly restored St Mels Cathedral which was destroyed by fire on Christmas morning in 2009 ahead of its first mass.
Pic Steve Humphreys
19th December 2014.

Administrator Fr Tom Healy (right) pictured alongside the Bishop of Armagh and Clonmacnois Francis Duffy in the newly restored St Mels Cathedral which was destroyed by fire on Christmas morning in 2009 ahead of its first mass. Pic Steve Humphreys 19th December 2014.

Administrator Fr Tom Healy (right) pictured alongside the Bishop of Armagh and Clonmacnois Francis Duffy in the newly restored St Mels Cathedral which was destroyed by fire on Christmas morning in 2009 ahead of its first mass. Pic Steve Humphreys 19th December 2014.

THe majestic St Mel's Cathedral is reopening - five years after it was gutted in a Christmas Day fire.

Today, the people of Longford and of the diocese Ardagh and Clonmacnois will get to see the results of a €30m restoration project.

Speaking as final preparations were being made for the re-opening, Bishop Francis Duffy said the past five years had been a story of "transformation from a shell to a beautiful and elegant sacred space".

Bishop Duffy, who was appointed to lead the diocese just one year ago, paid tribute to his predecessor Bishop Colm O'Reilly's "vision and determination" in opting for restoration and bringing the massive project to completion.

The bishop also announced that the restored cathedral will be rededicated on May 17, 2015, to tie in with its original dedication on May 19, 1840. But it's back open to the public from today, just in time for Christmas week.

"2014 is assured a central place in Longford's history, as the year when Longford got its old cathedral back," Bishop Duffy said.

renewal

He suggested that St Mel's could serve as a symbol of the renewal of the church in Ireland. The reconstruction of the cathedral created a minimum of 100 jobs and contributed €7.5m to the State's tax revenues.

Chairman of St Mel's Cathedral Project Committee Seamus Butler said it was the biggest restoration project on a cathedral in Europe.

"We would estimate that the Irish taxpayer gained handsomely from the restoration of the Cathedral," he said, pointing out that for every on-site job, an off-site job was created.

The restoration project also created two training courses for 60 people, one of which up-skilled local tradespeople in heritage restoration.

In his address, Colm Redmond, the lead architect, explained how every one of the cathedral's massive 28 limestone columns had to be replaced as the originals have been damaged in the inferno which began in the boiler and rose to 900 degrees.

"It is my hope that the people of the Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnois will embrace their cathedral as the return of an old friend," he said.

A documentary entitled The Longford Phoenix Rises, which looks at the key moments in the re-birth of St Mel's, will be broadcast by RTE on December 30.

hnews@herald.ie


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