To Mel And Back


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Scenes by Random Irish Photos from the re-opening of St Mel’s Cathedral, Longford, Co Longford this evening. The cathedral was gutted by fire during Christmas 2009 (top).

Random writes:

Tonight saw  the first mass being held in St Mel’s Cathedral in Longford. Gutted by fire in 2009, more than €30 million has been  been spent restoring the iconic neo-classical-style building named after the 5th century saint and uncle of St Patrick..

Just under 1,000 people turned up for the mass, which was celebrated by Fr Tom Healy – the last priest to say mass in the cathedral before it caught fire in the early hours of December 25, 2009.

Although it was originally thought to have been started by vandals, it was an accident.
It started in a section of a chimney flue in the old heating system of the building – that dates back to 1840 – sometime between midnight mass and 5am. It spread to the sacristy and then to the wood floor before catching wooden beams and roof.The heat was so intense that marble fittings melted. Indeed, 26 limestone columns would have to be completely replaced as they had shattered under the intense heat, which reached as high as 1,100c.

The roof was destroyed, the floor collapsed into the crypt and countless priceless religious artifacts and other treasures were destroyed. As well as paintings, tapestries and statues, they included St Mel’s 1,000-year-old wooden crozier.

Fr Healy recalled: “We had had a wonderful celebration of midnight Mass.It was just an almighty shock to be woken in the middle of the night and told the cathedral was on fire.
We just stood in the streets literally crying – helpless as we watched the flames break through the roof as it succumbed. So it was a time of enormous shock for everybody in Longford.”

Not all the art work was destroyed. An Italian oil painting (pictured) of the holy family survived the blaze unscathed, despite being located in centre of the blaze. It hangs over a side alter near the prayer offertory and has become something of an attraction among church goers.

Ronan Moore, the senior project manager who has helped guide St Mel’s restoration, said it should have been one of the first canvasses to be set alight.

‘We will never know how it survived,’ Ronan recalls in a new RTÉ documentary on the restoration of St Mel’s to be aired on RTÉ One this Christmas. ‘You can see it here just a few yards from some of the huge stone pillars and columns of the old church that were completely de-stabilised by the searing heat of the fire – turning to dust and had to be replaced. ‘Yet the painting stayed intact above it all – while all around it was destroyed by those huge temperatures.’

The cathedral this Christmas will also showcase restored Harry Clarke stained glass windows. The original windows were scorched and shattered in the fire. Over 675 tonnes of native blue limestone from Leighlin, Co Carlow, have been installed – for the columns, the hand-carved window surrounds, pilasters, and for replacement corbels for the bell tower, which also sustained some damage. To get this amount of limestone in the section sizes required, a staggering 10,400 tonnes had to be quarried.

‘The Longford Phoenix’ – a Would You Believe special documentary – goes to air on RTÉ One on 30 December at 6.30pm.

Helping Fr Healey celebrate mass was Bishop emeritus Colm O’Reilly and Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnois, Francis Duffy.

Random Irish Photos 

39 thoughts on “To Mel And Back

    1. Always Wright

      Agree. It’s an ugly bit of architecture alright. No aesthetic or historical significance at all, at the centre of a collection of bottlenecks in the town’s traffic. By far the most interesting thing about St Mel’s cathedral is that Mel Gibson was named after it. (He confessed to it, I think it was on the Late Late, probably during Braveheart filming.)

  1. Gerry Johns

    Agree the design is ugly but the 1,000 people who attended mass there won’t give a fupp what people on Broadsheet think.

    The bit about the painting surviving the fire is interesting. As The Heart Throbs say, I Wonder Why?

    1. ABM

      Who knows how the painting survived. The people at Mass tonight went for many reasons. No doubt many were seeking the transcendent. And what a beautiful building to facilitate this.

      The organ looks great – Italian craftsmanship, mahogany from Ethopia, oak that doesn’t warp and twist over time, a design that fits in to the architecture and acoustics of the building.

  2. Gerry Johns

    Agree the design is ugly but the 1,000 people who attended mass there won’t give a f**k what Broadsheet readers think.

    The bit about the painting surviving the fire is interesting. As The Heart Throbs say, I Wonder Why?

      1. Odis

        “Fire proofing” doesn’t work like that. “Flame retarding” in a canvas type material typically works by having a chemical that chars the cloth, before it can be used as a fuel by the fire. Usually by being treated with a chemical that forms phosphoric acid in the presence of heat.

  3. babylonjohn

    According to their fairytale, a simple animal shed was fit for the Earthly debut of their minor Middle Eastern deity. Two thousand years later, despite the homelessness and poverty crisis in this country, and claims of being strapped for cash, €30 million has been spent on a building by this self-appointed institution trading on this deity’s names while it, and its sister agencies, continue to refuse to pay compensation to the women and children it abused, raped, sold, and imprisoned. Nice people.

    1. ABM


      The National Gallery of Ireland is costing far more. The state is still abusing old people and overseeing the abuse of minors. The church aren’t the ones making the same old mistakes.

      1. Formerly known as

        Tell me how many pedophiles the NGI has protected. The NGI don’t preach poverty.

    1. scottser

      who’s footing the bill for this? the church, the state or the congregation? ii really object to my taxes being used for churches.

  4. Joe Malone

    I’m fairly sure that the insurer’s of the cathedral stumped up the funds for the repairs. Some of the comments here reveal the truly bigoted views of the posters who presumably view themselves as enlightened liberals but are anything but!

    1. Formerly known as

      The emperor has no clothes. I am not bigoted, I judge each pedophile protecting organisation on its merits. This one is one of the worst.

  5. babylonjohn

    The church and institutional Christianity are still making the same mistakes over around the world, especially where it is thriving – in economically deprived areas in South America, Africa and Asia where it hopes to convert people through its religio-colonial project (exploitative mission-ary work) from their indigenous traditions who are so desperate they’ll do anything. Meanwhile it’s dying a slow death in the “developed” areas of the world where greater access to education has enabled people to articulate themselves and resist social and psychological control. And let’s not forget it is part of the racist Eurocentric imperialist project. Odd how institutional Christianity presents their Semitic godform to the world as tall, slim, porcelain skinned, fair haired and blue eyed; furthering the white supreme ideal – of course the seats of power of this institute remain in the “white”/”developed” world. Why is a white version of a Jewish character still upheld as the sacred image to those around the world who are non-white? And, let’s not forget for many centuries racism justified by nuttier-than-thou interpretations of theology and scripture cultivated the persecution in “Christianised” Europe of Jews who were seen as bearing the responsibility of their ancestors as “Christ killers,” and we all know what that led to. Spanish fanatic Catholicism even saw the New Christians (converts under duress), also referred to as Marranos (literally meaning pigs), facing long prison sentences and the “act of faith” – burning at the stake – on suspicion of infidelity to the Christian tradition / preaching Judaism – the very tradition it grew out of!

    They forget their claim that their fictional deity went into a temple with a temper to preach against material concern and urged people to help the poor and marginalised. Maybe the 1,000 suckers in Longford should have a look at this before coughing up more in the donation plates.

    1. Newsflash

      “Nice” is subjective. The church has things at the expense of those in society who need resources most. Resources like the vast billion euro property portfolio it refuses to sell to compensate for its victims. In the church is where you’re certain to find haters of freedom, children, LGBT folk, women fertility, reproduction, and sex. Such misery this institution has given Ireland, and your own families, but what to expect from a death cult; it’s own symbol a tool of torture!

      1. newsjustin

        Society is not a zero sum game. If it was, I’m sure you would sell your pc/laptop/mobile to help the poor who you have enriched yourself at the expense of ( according to you).

        1. Formerly known as

          Do you understand why “haters” have a problem with a cult, that wields massive power over a large number of people, is the wealthiest organisation in the World, preaches poverty, takes money form the poor, and protects child rapists?

          1. newsjustin

            I entirely understand why some people hate the church. I dislike it when people dress it up in nonsense economics/development theory.

          2. Don Pidgeoni

            Do you mean development like when church says don’t use condoms, thereby affecting economies and society in poorer countries?

  6. DizzyDoris

    I love places of worship. The Hindu temple in London is my favourite. That humans are so faith bound as to build these beautiful buildings is awe inspiring. There is a lot more isolated grandiose in Ireland than Longford, and most during the British occupation too.

  7. Procrasto

    sympathies cos of the fire, but this is still about invisible would-be entities of the sky. Nonsense, and while Ive a sense of humour Ive no time for nonsense

  8. Quisling

    Good grief. How I love it when people automatically reach for the pitchforks. I’m no fan of the organised church, but I would not dream of calling someone else a ‘sucker’ for their faith. The restoration was paid for in its entirety by public fundraising (ie the shortfall not covered by insurance) – what a sense of community. Also the last 5 years have seen the use and therefore preservation of the skills of all those various craftsmen who worked on the project (and kept them employed for the 5 worst years of the recession). Whether or not you agree with its premise, ecclesiastical art is interesting and worth preserving – like all art. The kneejerk reaction is tedious. This is a massive project of which the town of Longford and indeed all of Ireland can be rightly proud. Community, craftsmanship and a little solidarity in the preservation of culture – something we could all do with a little more of in a barbaric world.

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