Friends of St Mel's Cathedral

Letter on St Mel's Cathedral from Bishop Colm
to the priests and people of Ardagh and Clonmacnois


11th February 2011

Last Sunday 6th February saw the signing of the contracts by St. Mel’s Cathedral Project Committee with the architects who will design the restoration of the Cathedral. Two firms have been engaged to work in association: Richard Hurley & Associates (www.rha.ie) and Fitzgerald Kavanagh + Partners (www.fkp.ie). To mark this significant step the Project Committee with the assistance of the Catholic Communication Office in Maynooth organised a Press Day to allow the media see the work done to date at the Cathedral and to meet the Project Committee and members of the Design Team. The day began with journalists and photographers being invited to see the inside of the Cathedral, then all were welcome to attend Mass celebrated by the bishop at the Cathedral Centre where he explained to parishioners the latest developments, finishing then with a Press Conference at the bishop’s house. Journalists and photographers from the Longford Leader, Shannonside Radio, Irish Catholic, the Irish Independent and the Irish Times were in attendance. Photographs of the day taken by Tiernan Dolan can be viewed on our homepage. The text of the speeches of Bishop Colm and Richard Hurley at the press conference and audio clips of the same, as well as a letter from President McAleese last September, can be accessed at the Irish Catholic Bishops website (click here) http://www.catholicbishops.ie/media-centre/press-release-archive/74-press-release-archive-2011/2192-6-february-2011-bishop-colm-oreilly-announces-design-team-for-the-restoration-of-st-mels-cathedral-longford

The appointment of engineering firms will be announced in the near future. A new momentum will now be evident as these firms begin the detailed process of planning and designing the restoration of the building. Already this week there has been far more comings and goings by conservationists and architects to the Cathedral.

The Cathedral Restoration Reserve Fund has been established to accept donations that have been received and will be used to cover any costs that do not fall under insurance e.g. ‘enhancement’ / ‘betterment’ of the building and property. A Diocesan wide collection was held on Sunday last, the Feast of St. Mel. Sincere thanks to all.

World Day of the Sick, established in 1993 by Pope John Paul II, takes place on 11th February each year on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. It is a day of intense prayer for all who are suffering pain, infirmity and sickness. In this way we will express our solidarity with those who suffer ill-health and unite our illnesses to Christ’s Passion which is the great expression of God’s love for the world. To honour this day the Pastoral Council in Longford Parish has decided to organise a Mass with Anointing of the Sick and a silent all-night Vigil before the Blessed Sacrament to pray for healing in preparation for it.

The Vigil begins this evening Friday 11th February at 8.00 pm in the College Chapel and will conclude with 8am Mass tomorrow morning. Parishioners have been invited to spend some time in quiet prayer before the Blessed Sacrament during the night to pray for healing and consolation for themselves, loved ones and others in the parish.

The 10 am Mass tomorrow Saturday 12th February will take place in the Cathedral Centre with Anointing of the Sick taking place during the Mass and the Cathedral Choir providing music. We have invited parishioners to make a special effort to bring family members and neighbours who would like to receive this sacrament for reasons of ill-health or age and do not have their own transport.

28th January 2011

Over Christmas time the parish was busy with annual traditions and some new initiatives. In Advent a Youth Mass and a Many Nations Mass were held, along with a Service of Reconciliation after the Vigil Mass on 18th December. Cribs were set up in the College Chapel and Cathedral Centre – however special effort was put into preparing the Cathedral and presbytery grounds as a means of giving the people of Longford a sense of hope in difficult economic times and one year on from the Christmas fire. The pastoral council decided that to put a simple illuminated star on the Portico would be appropriate and approached Edwin and Eddie Kiernan to fabricate the same. They designed a beautiful cross-shaped star and with the help of Tommy Dolan it was put in place and could be seen all across the town. The evergreen tree in the presbytery grounds had white lights placed on it for the first time and local man PJ Quinn designed and constructed an Angel of Hope which was illuminated alongside the tree. An electronic bell system was also installed with speakers to ring out the hours once more from the bell-tower and they can be heard until 8pm at night out as far as Ballymacormack. The sound of the bells marking the passing of the day has been welcomed by townspeople.

A special edition of the Parish Review was prepared this Christmas to document the past, present and future of the Cathedral and all matters associated with the inferno of the previous year. This involved the help of local and national journalists with Longford connections in conducting interviews and penning articles. There is also an account of all that went on in the parish and in schools, clubs and societies in Longford over the course of 2010. It’s an outstanding publication which will prove an invaluable historic record in years to come. Our annual calendar which this year depicted pictures from the Cathedral of old along with parallel images from the Cathedral Centre, with the statue of St. Mel which survived the fire from the apse of the Cathedral at its centre, has been eagerly taken home from all the churches in the parish.

The week before Christmas saw near-record low temperatures here in the Midlands with –16 deg C documented some nights and days when daily highs didn’t get anywhere near freezing points. Down in St. Mel’s College the heating system was afflicted by freezing diesel which caretaker James Gerety made great endeavours to resolve. However, all this was a minor problem compared to the year before! The Cathedral Choir was magnificent as ever at Midnight Mass and the Cathedral Folk Group provided the music for the 10 a.m. Mass which was broadcast live by Shannonside Radio.

On Saturday 22nd January the parish held its first ever Day of Reflection for all involved in liturgies in the parish – from Eucharistic ministers, readers, servers’ parents, altar societies, choirs, ushers, to hospitality committees and pastoral council members. The presentations on the day were given by Fr. Dan Cavanagh of Ossory Diocese and Fr. Frankie Murray of Ferbane Parish. Lunch was taken together in the College canteen and the day oncluded with Mass in the College Chapel. There was a great turnout which enjoyed the day immensely and many marvelled at seeing in one room the sheer number of people involved in various ministries in parish life.

Matters at the Cathedral itself have been quiet on the surface but busy behind the scenes as interviews were held and contracts negotiated for architectural and engineering services over the last few months. There will be a press conference held on 6th February to announce the Architects appointed to the Restoration Project. Bishop Colm has declared the Feast of St. Mel will be celebrated on 6th February this year, and as it was the traditional date for the celebration for a very long time, that it might be the feast day in future years (in modern times the 7th February has been the day dedicated to St. Mel).

18th November 2010

An intensive selection process to appoint the Design Team for the reconstruction of the Cathedral is nearing completion. A Press Conference will be held in mid-December to announce the successful team who will lead the design and planning phase of the restoration project.

On the restoration front there is good news. The two Harry Clarke Studios stained glass windows, the most precious in the Cathedral of old, are nearing successful restoration by Abbey Stained Glass Studios of Dublin.

The sound of the bells of St. Mel’s Cathedral has long been an integral part of the life of Longford Town. So much so, that when local band ‘Busy Fingers’, decided to launch a song to aid the restoration project, it was entitled ‘The Bells of old St Mel’s’. It has received great airplay on local radio stations and has been on sale in shops throughout the Midlands. It will be available to parishioners at the Cathedral Centre over one weekend in December – more details soon.

At the suggestion of some parishioners, it is hoped to have the sound of bells ringing out again from the Cathedral spire in the near future as a symbol of continuity and hope as we look forward to the restoration project advancing. It will not be possible to have the original bells up and running for some time so it is hoped to put a temporary electronic arrangement in place.

Due to overwhelming demand, the Christmas cards, designed by local teacher Tiernan Dolan and his students in St Mel’s College, featuring the Cathedral in snow, have completely sold out. It has been decided to order a reprint and the cards will be on sale this weekend 20/21 November. This will be the final printing, so if you want to send these cards, make sure you aren't disappointed. The cards are being sold in aid of the Cathedral Reserve Fund at five euro for a pack of six.

The Parish Review Committee is currently working away on this years’ production of our parish newspaper. It will have all the news of life in Longford over the course of the last twelve months. With the assistance of local journalists we will be producing a special supplement insert within the paper to give a comprehensive overview of the year gone by in relation to the reconstruction of the Cathedral.

23rd September 2010 – 9 months on

The first phase of works at the Cathedral came to an end in early August. The inside of the Cathedral is now a much different sight than in the days of the aftermath of the fire – at that time it was an unrecognisable sight of piles of smouldering debris with an open sky visible above that greeted the observer. Now all that debris has been sifted through, what is valuable kept by conservationists, and the remainder removed. The temporary roof with plenty of translucent panels to let much sunlight in has been put up and gives the Cathedral a sense of being an enclosed space once more. This roof was required to protect the building from the elements over the coming years and provide a protected space in which restoration work can begin in a dry environment. Local firm Keogh Electrical has installed an electrical system throughout the building to provide lighting and power connections to facilitate the work of restoration in due course. The rows of limestone columns are surrounded by scaffolding to facilitate access and many of the columns and arches are supported by metal banding and inserts and surrounded by netting as these have suffered a lot of damage and are scaling away badly in places or ‘spalling’ as this type of deterioration is technically known.

The side chapel floors are tiles upon solid foundation with no crypt space below – so it’s possible to walk on this area unimpeded and along the side altars to the main altar sanctuary. However, the side aisles and two central rows were composed of floorboards covering a crypt beneath and so these are now vast open spaces which can be accessed only by descending ladders. However the mosaic-tile aisle that came up the centre of the Cathedral remains, as this was underpinned by steel and concrete, and hovers over the central crypt area. Please see the photo galleries on the homepage for the most recent photos from inside the roofed Cathedral and aerial shots taken from above St Mel’s taken during the month of August.

Interestingly from the photos the viewer will note that there is brickwork evident in two of the columns – these ‘false pillars’ are atop the two columns at the centre of the back wall of the Cathedral and were surrounded by the more recent and lower choir gallery when it was constructed in the 1980s to replace the original which was much higher up situated above all the pillars and closer to the vaulted ceiling, thus allowing the sound to carry naturally around St. Mel’s. All the other columns throughout the Cathedral are solid limestone and were an integral part of the support structure for the roof. These two columns were for decorative purposes and only the bottom segments of both columns were made of solid limestone. The other higher segments consisted of stone-lined brickwork which has now become exposed. Two other smaller columns forward of these and a steel support structure were what actually supported the modern choir gallery as these decorative columns had no weight-bearing capability.

The ongoing behind-the-scenes developments involve the establishing of a design team to lead the restoration. A number of architectural firms are being interviewed and considered over these weeks. Firms from other engineering disciplines necessary for the restoration project will undergo the same process in the coming weeks. Thus the design team that will guide the works should be put in place over the next two months. The Harry Clarke Studio windows that were salvaged in the days after the blaze are currently being restored and this work is progressing very well.

There has been no formal fundraising initiative to raise funds for additional new features that will be incorporated as the Cathedral is restored. However people have approached the parish with ideas such as the Family Day in Longford Town FC’s Flancare Park and the release of the CD single “The Bells of Old St. Mel’s” by James Gorham, Mel Crowe and the Busy Fingers band, with the help of children from St. Mary’s N.S., Drumlish and Stonepark N.S., Longford, which is selling very well in shops throughout the Midlands at the moment. Many others with strong connections to St. Mel’s or moved by the events of last Christmas Day have made their own personal contributions and Longford Associations in Dublin, London and the US have forwarded offerings. Each of these donations is receipted and acknowledged and between all the above individuals and groups the total to date is over 330,000 euro. These contributions and the general goodwill of people everywhere is much appreciated.



25th July 2010 – 7 months on

We are in the mid-summer period in the parish. Works at the Cathedral are beginning to wrap up for the time being. The two yellow cranes which were part of the Longford town skyline for the first six months of this year have withdrawn for now. The temporary roof is almost complete. By the end of this month the guttering will have been installed and works at the Cathedral will stop for about 18 months until early 2012.

Alongside Hegartys many local firms have been involved in this first phase – Kiernan Steel installed the roof using cladding produced by CPL of Little Water Street, local operators of Irish Netting installed safety rigging, Keogh Electrical have installed temporary power and lighting to the Cathedral and Gilmore Security have protected the Cathedral surrounds.

The construction of a temporary roof was needed to stop any further deterioration due to exposure to the weather – in fact we have enjoyed a remarkably dry first half of the year up until the arrival of the by now annual pulses of heavy rain in July. It will also provide a dry working environment in due course when restoration work begins on the ground.

There are photos recently added to our photo galleries on the homepage of our website showing the construction of the roof and the internal works necessary to support it.

The steering committee refers to the next phase of works as that large part of the iceberg which is out of view below the water-line. The next step is the appointment of an architectural firm to chart the re-building of St. Mel’s Cathedral. Further components of the design, engineering and construction team will emerge over the next year and beyond.

Longford Library has hosted a wonderful exhibition on St. Mel’s Cathedral throughout the month of the July. The exhibition has been designed to be mobile and will tour to other libraries in County Longford and indeed to libraries in other counties in our diocese over the coming year.

Cemetery Sunday this year in the parish takes place at Ballymacormack Cemetery on Sunday 22 August at 1.00pm replacing the regular Mass at the Cathedral Centre. This is a very important date in our calendar when literally thousands gather to remember loved ones who have gone before them.




The Busy Fingers Band are delighted to announce the release of their new single ‘The Bells of Old St Mel’s’. The song was written by band member Mel Crowe and song writing partner James Gorham, from a suggestion for the title from local artist Pauraic Farrell and recorded at Paul Gurneys studios. It tells of the history of the nationally renowned St Mel’s Cathedral in Longford and of course laments its recent demise due to a tragic fire. But more than anything the song reflects the hope and strong belief that the now silent bells will ring again, when this landmark building is restored to its former glory.

The recording also features children from St Marys NS, Drumlish and Stonepark NS, giving it a unique and uplifting chorus. James and Mel deliberately chose an upbeat tempo for the song, which gives it a bright and happy mood to go with all the goodwill and best wishes that have been expressed towards the much loved St Mel’s Cathedral.

All proceeds from sales of this new single will go towards the St Mel’s Restoration Reserve fund and The Busy Fingers Band are delighted to have their welcome backing. ‘The Bells of Old St Mel’s’ CD will be available at all top music stores throughout the midlands and well beyond.

For any further information regarding this CD you can contact; Mel on 087 2976538

7th June 2010

Yesterday saw our Corpus Christi Procession held in brilliant sunshine. This year we began and finished in the Cathedral Car Park in the shadow of the Cathedral bell-tower. The procession went down along St. Patrick’s Terrace, through Deanscurragh and Butterfield, back by St. Mary’s Terrace and along New St., Ballymahon St. and Dublin St. before finishing with benediction led by Bishop Colm. There was a good turnout and members of Longford Pipe Band added to the solemnity of the occasion.

Work at the Cathedral is progressing with the red steel frame of the temporary roof dominating the town’s skyline. Further work was necessary to support the internal pillars and arches with steel bracing and this has slightly delayed the completion of the roof. It is now hoped that it will be finished within the first two weeks of July. This securing and stabilisation of the site by the middle of next month will mark the completion of the first phase of the project. The next phase will involve the much less visible but more important work of detailed preparation and planning – office work rather than site work. The steering committee meets every two weeks and with the assistance of the recently-appointed Project Managers work is continuing in preparing for the establishment of the design team that will ultimately chart the restoration project.

Confirmations went very well in the Cathedral Centre at St. Mel’s College and as secondary schools have now finished class for the year the Cathedral Centre can remain in place in the College gym for the next three months without the usual set-up and set-down that takes place during term time.


16th May 2010

Last Sunday saw a very successful parish day at Longford Town FC’s home ground Flancare Park. The day was lovely and dry, with the sun shining during the Mass celebrated by Bishop Colm and concelebrated by the priests of the parish with Longford Parish Folk Choir providing the music. It clouded over later in the afternoon but there was a great atmosphere with thousands of people, young and old, enjoying a day of music and time together.

This day was dreamed up and then made a reality by the hard work of some local musicians. Firstly, Paschal Flaherty and Padraig Farrell, along with their friend Sean Hussey, approached the parish earlier this year and set about securing the co-operation of Longford Town FC and local musicians. Declan Nerney came on board and contacted fellow legends Big Tom, Larry Cunningham, Dermot Hegarty and Mick Flavin - many local artistes and Longford Pipe Band all came and gave of their time and talent freely for the enjoyment of the people of Longford. The local media ensured that the day was well publicised and many shops and premises throughout the area displayed the posters advertising the day. The Gardaí provided for public safety and traffic management and Brendan Gilmore Security personnel looked after car parking and operated the pitch side gates in the ground itself. The Order of Malta were on hand throughout the afternoon as were the many people involved in the Town soccer club.

The members of CASA led the dancing in front of the stand and the whole stand leapt to their feet when Big Tom came on stage. Two ladies from Dublin had come all the way to hear Dermot Hegarty sing – they arrived on the early train and having breakfasted in town walked the two miles out to Flancare Park. They were delighted with their day. Dermot Hegarty mentioned the central role Mass has played in our culture from the time of the Mass Rocks under persecution to the time of the Cathedral and onto the outdoor celebration in Flancare on the day. He himself grew up within earshot of the Cathedral bells and had sung in choirs there as a child and adult.

People could make donations to the Cathedral Restoration Fund and the great sum of 12,633 euro was raised at the collection points at which many parish volunteers gave of their time under the guidance of Tom Mulligan of the Parish Finance Committee.

A sincere thanks to one and all for a memorable day.

9th May 2010

Life continues apace in Longford Parish with First Holy Communions taking place in the Cathedral Centre and preparations for Confirmation in two weeks time are in progress. Next Monday there will be a presentation for anyone in the parish who wishes to come along on the fire at the Cathedral and the progress on the ground since then. The steel support beams have been lifted in to place on the Cathedral external and internal walls and in about five weeks time the temporary roof, grey in colour, should be complete.

This Sunday marks an important day in the life of the parish when courtesy of Longford Town FC and the enthusiastic work of local musicians a Mass will be celebrated by Bishop Colm at 1.00pm in Flancare Park followed by an afternoon of music provided by a great line-up that includes Country Music legends Big Tom, Declan Nerney, Mick Flavin, Larry Cunningham, and Dermot Hegarty as well as Frankie Flaherty, Paschal & Sean, Liz & David, Padraig Farrell, Pat Gavigan, T.J. Walsh, Paul Gurney, Tommy Flaherty, Denis Hughes & many more. The links between our local soccer club are strong considering the club was founded in the parish Temperance Hall opposite the Cathedral in 1924 and the black silhouette of the Cathedral Spire taking pride of place on the club’s crest. Admission on the day is free with all donations going towards the St Mel’s Cathedral Restoration Reserve Fund. The day has been very well promoted on local radio and in regional newspapers by the organisers. It looks like Longford Parish Family Day is going to be blessed with a rain-free afternoon so it should be a great opportunity for the people of the parish to unite together along with the many others who will travel from further afield to support the gathering and avail of the chance listen to some great musicians all together on the one stage. The parish is deeply grateful to all at the club for undertaking this initiative.


25th April 2010 – 4 months on from the fire

The initial First Holy Communions went well in the Cathedral Centre last Saturday. The comments of people attending mirror those of the faithful at the Easter ceremonies – everything is so close and visible and as the congregation surrounds the sanctuary on three sides it results in a more intimate atmosphere than previously in the Cathedral. The seats are more comfortable than the traditional pews although the wooden gym floor generates more noise when people move round. There are pluses and minuses in everything. Some of the school’s parents’ association provide refreshments afterwards and the adjacent assembly hall provides the perfect venue for teas and coffees before families head off for their own celebrations.

The presentation given by Danny Donohoe of OSG Chartered Loss Adjustors (which is also available on the homepage of our website) is being sent to all parish pastoral councils on DVDs to facilitate awareness of the restoration project as St. Mel’s Cathedral, especially in the parishes most removed from Longford by distance. Our own parish is going to show the presentation to parishioner in the assembly hall of St. Mel’s College on Monday May 10 at 8.30pm. Bishop Colm is in the middle of celebrating Confirmations in many of the parishes of the diocese – he emphasises, adapting the words of the famous Vietnamese Bishop Nguyen Van Thuan, that the most beautiful Cathedral is the people, and especially the children, of the diocese. He points out that the statue of the Sacred Heart which still adorns the top of the portico of the Cathedral was donated by all the children of the diocese in 1893. Our own Confirmations in Longford Parish take place on May 22nd and 23rd next in the Cathedral Centre.

18th April 2010

Last Saturday saw a gathering in the assembly hall of St Mel’s College to hear a presentation by Mr. Danny Donohoe of OSG Chartered Loss Adjusters. The diocese had invited pastoral council representatives and priests from all of the parishes in Ardagh and Clonmacnois. This presentation is now available on our homepage and copies are being distributed to the pastoral councils. During his talk Mr Donohoe explained what investigations have shown about the fire on Christmas Day, the current state of the Cathedral and the next steps in the journey towards restoration. He confirmed the unforeseeable and accidental nature of the fire, explained the ongoing work of stabilising the internal and external walls and the temporary roofing of the building, and also elaborated that the extent of damage and costs involved will only become apparent as examinations proceed over the next year. The process of forming a professional design team has begun but the actual work of restoring the Cathedral is far from imminent. The current hope is that re-building work can commence in early 2012 and be completed by late 2014. However, it is premature to set any timeline in stone and more definitive dates will only emerge as the restoration process unfolds.

This weekend will see the first of our parish schools celebrating First Holy Communion at the Cathedral Centre. This is always a day of great joy for the children of 2nd Class, their families and teachers. The good run of beautiful warm sunny weather should make this weekend’s celebrations even more enjoyable.


11th April 2010

The Easter Triduum was celebrated at the Cathedral Centre last weeks with large crowds coming for the traditional ceremonies which commemorate the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Our Lord. We were concsious that the large numbers who come each year to the 3 o'clock ceremony on Good Friday would be greater than the numbers we can now accomodate. So with the help of our generous cameraman Declan Gilmore we relayed the ceremonies by video-link into the adjoining assembly hall where hundreds more could follow the liturgy taking place in the Cathedral Centre. It's a hallmark of the Irish Church that two of the biggest days in terms of congregation numbers are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday - neither of which are technically holy days of obligation, but both are days that remain most important to the faithful of our land. Again, a very large congregation was present for the 1pm Mass on Easter Sunday and the additional facility in the assembly hall proved very important to cater for everyone.

There was a tremendous effort by all who help in the parish to prepare the Easter ceremonies, not least the pastoral council as well as the Cathedral Choir who are now much more visible to the congregation, their being close to the altar in comparison to the gallery of old high up at the back of the Cathedral. The transition-year students of Scoil Mhuire and St. Mel's College, under the direction of Sr. Anna Burke and with the assistance of their teachers and the parish team, delivered a moving re-enactment of Our Lord's Passion during our Good Friday liturgy. We are grateful to them for their efforts which help all better understand the love which Jesus showed in dying for us by making it something we could see before our eyes and for making real the involvement of our youth in the life of the parish.

9th March 2010

The lit pedestrian pathway has been completed down the avenue of St. Mel’s College allowing people coming on foot to Mass and to the College a secure way of accessing the Chapel and Cathedral Centre. Next week we will celebrate St. Patrick’s Day at the Cathedral Centre also. At the moment there is a lot of activity around the Cathedral aimed at securing the building. However, once this initial phase of work is completed in a few months time, the process of planning for the restoration, already begun, will be the main activity, and reinstatement work on the ground is unlikely to begin before 2012. This reflects the time that is required to prepare properly and professionally for a project of this nature. Arrangements are well under way for the Easter ceremonies and students from the local secondary schools St. Mel’s College and Scoil Mhuire are preparing a dramatic re-enactment of Christ’s Passion for Good Friday.


2nd March 2010

We had our second weekend of Masses at the Cathedral Centre in St. Mel’s College. Large numbers of people are coming to our Masses and over these weekends the children from Confirmation classes in the parish are participating in turn at the 7.30pm Vigil and Sunday morning 10am Masses and publicly making their commitments to prepare well for Confirmation in May. The pedestrian pathway to St. Mel’s opened last weekend – however work continues during the week to finish the project which will ultimately see lighting installed along the pathway. At the Cathedral more and more steel beams are being put in place to receive the temporary roof which should be in place during the month of May. The weather in Longford has been exceptionally dry and cold since Christmas – temperatures dip below freezing at night but there is plenty of warm sunshine during the day.


25th February 2010 – 2 months on from the fire

Last weekend saw us move to our new home in the sports centre at St. Mel’s College for the Vigil and Sunday Masses. We have named our new venue St. Mel’s Cathedral Centre. It is a beautiful and appropriate setting for our liturgies. Many people were genuinely overcome on seeing the religious imagery from the Cathedral which has been reproduced to provide an appropriate setting for our community to gather in each weekend. The focal point of the Cathedral Centre is the beautiful sanctuary and altar designed and constructed from wood by the Duignan family’s Irish Contract Seating of nearby Dromod, Co. Leitrim. Hanging behind this is a reproduction of the Ray Carroll tapestry of Christ returning with his angels in glory, familiar to visitors to the Cathedral in recent decades – above this on an even larger backdrop are the words Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat which were painted in gold-leaf high on the apse behind the altar in the Cathedral: Christ conquers, Christ reigns, Christ commands!

Large images of statues, pictures and stained glass from the Cathedral surround the 700 seats within the Cathedral Centre. The artistic eye which brought this vision to life belongs to Noel Strange, ably assisted by Eddie and Edwin Kiernan who also created four grey pillars which stand next to the altar evoking the familiar setting of the Cathedral. At the entrance door is some burnt timber from the Cathedral embedded into a lighter-coloured wood to form a cross besides a poster with words of encouragement from the last verse of Psalm 27 - “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart, and wait for the Lord” – they have become a motto for us all and are quoted to any member of the design team who show any signs of impatience with the pace of progress. We are deeply grateful for the tremendous voluntary effort that went into making our new weekend home such a beautiful reality in a very short space of time.

Bishop Colm celebrated the first Mass last Saturday evening and read from a letter addressed to the diocese by Pope Benedict XVI assuring us of his prayerful support in the wake of our Christmas Day tragedy. A chalice and chasuble, the outer vestment a priest wears at Mass, were also gifted to us as a sign of his spiritual solidarity with us at all times.

At the Cathedral itself preparations for the temporary roof continue. There are now three tall cranes situated alongside the Cathedral – their numbers grow as the weeks pass by! The pedestrian path to the College is still under construction but it shouldn’t be long before parishioners can walk to worship with ease down the long beautiful tree-lined avenue. Within the meetings of the Parish Team and Pastoral Council preparations are well under-way for our Easter Ceremonies and this week saw First Confession’s being made by the children of the parish at St. Anne’s Church, Curry and in the newly-renovated College Chapel.


17th February 2010 – Ash Wednesday

The work of securing the Cathedral continues apace. Two cranes now stand out against the Longford skyline. Structural beams are being put in place and the temporary steel roof structure will begin to take shape in the near future. Half-burnt seats and other remaining beams are being cleared from the side-chapels. Photos taken by Tiernan Dolan last week inside the Cathedral can be found inside in the “Images after the fire” gallery. Works are ongoing at the Sports Centre in St. Mel’s in preparation for our first Mass there this Saturday evening. The Temperance Hall has been a great facility to avail of over the last number of weeks but there will be a lot more space at St. Mel’s to allow for liturgies that more closely resemble those we were familiar with in the Cathedral.

14th February 2010 – 7 weeks on from the Christmas Day Fire

This is our last weekend with Masses in the Temperance Hall and we move to St. Mel’s College Sports Centre beginning with the 7.30pm Vigil Mass on Saturday 20th February. The Sports Centre will be a hive of activity for the coming week as it is midterm break at the College and that allows us access to the gym at all times. Different lighting and backdrop gantries as well as wall fabrics and sound systems need to be set up but all of these are mobile or removable and will ensure the Sports Centre is fully usable by students Monday – Friday. A new well-lit pedestrian pathway is well under way parallel to the entrance avenue and will help our parishioners safely reach the Chapel and Sports Centre at the College. The College Chapel is proving a very popular place for quiet prayer and people coming for Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament are delighted with this beautiful space in which to pray and contemplate.

Indeed, many a local person has spent decades of their lives without ever going down the avenue to St. Mel’s College, so the current situation has greatly increased the interaction between town and school. Many have remarked on the peace and quiet of the College, surrounded as it is by trees and fields and one-step removed from the hustle and bustle of the traffic. Our last liturgical use of the Temperance Hall will be on Ash Wednesday, during the coming week, which was traditionally one of the busiest days in the Cathedral calendar - whilst not a holy day of obligation, people still come in their thousands for the beginning of Lent and the marking of crosses with ashes on their foreheads. The ash used on the first day of Lent traditionally came from the burning of the palms blessed on the previous Palm Sunday. The cycle of the liturgical year comes full circle.

All the windows of the Cathedral have been boarded up over the last week. The colour of the boards is grey so they blend in with the colour of the building. The next step is the installation of a temporary steel roof structure which will protect the building and ultimately allow work to go on underneath its shelter in due time. Baptisms which took place in the Cathedral previously now take place in St. Mel’s College Chapel. The sacraments of First Confession, First Holy Communion and Confirmation will take place at St. Mel’s College, in the Chapel and Sports Centre, over the next few months. A second collection was taken last weekend for Trocaire’s work in Haiti and €12,231 was raised – donations are still coming in. This a great sign of solidarity from the faithful of Longford with the people of Haiti struck down by that terrible earthquake one month ago.

5th February 2010 – 6 weeks on from the Christmas Day Fire

The Cathedral featured on a new religious programme on RTE last Sunday evening 31 January. The programme Joe Duffy’s Spirit Level, presented by the well-know broadcaster, interviewed Bishop Colm within the Cathedral itself and spoke to many others from the parish along with beautiful images from inside the Cathedral taken only two years ago when our sacristan Gerry Reilly and his wife Mary took part in the Living the Dream TV series. The piece on St. Mel’s begins 17 minutes into the programme and it can be viewed for another two weeks on the RTE Player – click on the following link if you’d like to watch it: http://www.rte.ie/player/#v=1065352

This Saturday morning 6th February, on the eve of the Feast of St. Mel, the RTE Radio 1 programme Countrywide comes live from the presbytery beside the Cathedral. Presented by Damian O’Reilly there will be many interviews relating to St. Mel’s and Co. Longford. The programme goes out live at the early hour of 8.10am. Podcasts from the show will be available later from the show’s webpage http://www.rte.ie/radio1/countrywide/index_cw.html

Different and strange words come into our vocabulary in these weeks. The large metal cylinder which fell from within the bell tower to the floor of the porch is a ‘speeltrommel’ or ‘playing drum’. These devices, which originated in Holland in the early Middle Ages, are designed to play the bells of a carillon automatically at different intervals to mark the passing of time. They were the first machines in human history upon which we could pre-program information. In this respect, they were the predecessors to the modern computer. Metal pins were inserted into the outer surface of the cylinder. As the cylinder turned these pins struck against a metal comb in a certain order, which was then transmitted to the carillon bells, and thereby a melody of a religious hymn would drift harmoniously over the town of Longford.

The securing of the Cathedral continues these days. An obvious change today was the fitting of dark grey boards to the 17 windows on the back wall of the Cathedral building, thus sealing the building from the elements on the northern side.

The feast of St. Blaise saw four Masses take place on Wednesday at St. Mel’s College Chapel to cater for the large numbers gathering for the ‘blessing of throats’. Minor works continue in the College Chapel to put the finish touches to a nice work of restoration. This weekend sees a second collection for the work of Trocaire with the people of Haiti, whom we keep ever present in our thoughts and prayers. Weekend Masses remain at the Temperance Hall for the next two weekends.

30th January 2010 – 5 weeks on from the Christmas Day Fire

The parish weekday Masses have moved to the renovated Chapel at St. Mel’s College. This local diocesan boys’ secondary school was opened in 1865, less than ten years after the first Mass was celebrated in the newly built St. Mel’s Cathedral. From the outset its stated aim was to provide a solid education for boys whatever their vocation in life. The chapel was decorated with stained glass windows in 1914, just in time for the 50th anniversary. Indeed we will be making it our home for Masses and Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament over the next few years that lead up to the 150th anniversary of St. Mel’s College.

The stained glass windows in the apse behind the altar are of the Sacred Heart, Our Lady and St. Joseph; those on the right wall are of St. Patrick, St. Mel, St. Brigid, St. Virgilius (Fergal) and the Papal Stem. St. Fergal was from the monastery of Aghaboe, Co. Laois and made his way to Salzburg where he became bishop and was known by the Latin form of his name, Virgilius. He is one of only five Irish Saints who were officially canonised by Popes in Rome. He was canonised in 1233: the other canonised saints are St. Malachy (1199), St. Laurence O’Toole (1227), St. Oliver Plunkett (1975) and St. Charles of Mount Argus (2007). All other Irish Saints before the year 1200, including Patrick and Mel, were acclaimed as saints by the people. The smaller stained glass windows higher up on the left side depict St. Albert, St. Kieran, St Gerhard of Regensburg and St. Colmcille. There are other depictions of Eucharistic symbol on windows in the side aisle.

Sincere thanks to all who helped transform the College Chapel into our new weekday home. Thanks to the College Principal, staff and students, the builders, the Pastoral Council and all the parish staff and volunteers who made the renovation happen at such speed. The first Mass was celebrated there last Monday, exactly one month on from the Christmas Day Fire at St. Mel’s. The Chapel is open every day from 7.30am – 8.00pm and you are invited to spend time there in prayer at any time during the day. Weekend Masses continue in the Temperance Hall until mid-February when they will move to the gym at St. Mel’s College, to be known as St. Mel’s Cathedral Centre at the weekends. A lot of preparatory work is underway involving the sourcing of fabrics to drape the side walls, installation of a sound system, construction of an altar with backdrops hung from suspended gantries, religious imagery around the hall and additional lighting. The walls of the gym are being painted at the moment and the 700 chairs that will be needed have just arrived. It’s hoped to avail of the mid-term break from Friday 12 February to prepare the hall for opening on the weekend of 20 / 21 February. The installations are all mobile and removable and will allow the gym to return to full use by the students of the College during the week. Work is also ongoing to arrange provision of additional pedestrian access, lighting and car parking facilities.

A yellow crane moves around the Cathedral these days and from its suspended cage workmen continue to make safe the internal structures of the Cathedral. Many meetings are taking place at diocesan level to plan the next few years of restoration. There is no definitive timeline for the project as of yet but five years will likely have elapsed before St. Mel’s opens it doors for worship once more. There continues to be a stream of communication to the parish about the fire and interest in the work of the Friends of St. Mel’s Cathedral. Sincere thanks to all who have sent messages of support and encouragement. Thanks also to Tiernan Dolan, Michael Keenan, Gavin Duignan and Jim Davey who have provided photos for this section of the website and to our webmaster Martin McGinn who manages our website and keeps it updated.

15th January 2010 – 3 weeks on from the Christmas Day Fire

Staff from the National Museum of Ireland continue to sift through the debris from the Museum and have found various pieces in differing states of preservation. Among items recovered so far are the 13th Century copper Crozier from Limoges in France; the Wheery Bell originally found near the ruins of a monastery in Ferbane in Co. Offaly; and the Shrine of the Book of Fenagh which dates back to 1536. These have been cleaned and removed for safekeeping by the Museum staff. They will continue to search for other items over the weeks ahead. Work is ongoing at ensuring that all internal walls are sufficiently supported and in due course a temporary covering will be put in place to roof the Cathedral and protect the inside from the elements.

Our weekday Masses will move to St. Mel’s College Chapel on Monday week, 25th January. The Saturday evening Vigil and the Sunday Masses will remain in the Temperance Hall until mid-February. But for the coming week all Masses remain here in the Temperance Hall.

We will continue to update you through announcements, the newsletter, our website longfordparish.com and the local media.

9th January 2010 – 15 days on from the Christmas Day Fire

Yesterday the Gardai confirmed that the cause of the fire at the Cathedral was accidental. They have yet to issue further details. The Garda with assistance from the National Museum of Ireland have sifted through the debris of the museum and have recovered a number of items. The team from the National Museum are hopeful of finding more next week.

Works are ongoing at St. Mel’s College Chapel and Sports Hall to enable us to transfer our Masses there. We are hopeful of having daily Mass at the College Chapel in a week or two while the Sunday Masses facilities will take a little longer to organise. In the meantime all Masses continue at the Temperance Hall until further announcements.

8th January 2010 two weeks on from the Christmas Day Fire

The Garda Forensic team continue their work at St. Mel’s Cathedral. Yesterday they allowed one of the priests to go to the tabernacle to retrieve the Blessed Sacrament. Accompanied by a Garda and men from Hegarty Demolition the tabernacle was opened by key, showed itself to have suffered only mild smoke damage inside, and a number of ciboria with consecrated hosts were removed – a Corpus Christi procession of a different kind saw them being brought from the Cathedral to the nearby presbytery. This is a source of consolation for all of us in the parish.

The Gardai also facilitated the removal of chalices, ciboria and patens from their wall safe in the Cathedral. They are somewhat blackened from the smoke but hopefully through cleaning most can be restored.

The unusually long spell of cold, dry weather brings temperature as low as -7 degrees Celsius at night in Longford at the moment, but the absence of rain and only very light snow over these last few weeks has facilitated the progress of the work of inspection and the securing of heritage in the now roofless Cathedral.


6th January 2010 – 12 days on from the Christmas Day Fire

Developments continue at a fast pace at St. Mel’s and in the parish. The work on preparing St. Mel’s College Chapel is proceeding very quickly. This is where our weekday Masses will be held in the near future. Another group is preparing a mobile backdrop for the St. Mel’s College Gym to transform it into a setting suitable for Sunday Mass for our parish at weekends, whilst allowing it remain in full use by students for sports during the week. Another group are concentrating on ensuring good access to our new home at the College for the next few years.

At the Cathedral itself the Garda forensic team are beginning their work immediately, now that the building has been secured. The famous stained-glass windows from the Harry Clarke Studios which were on either side of the altar in the transepts are intact to varying extents but hopes are that they will be completely restored. A conservationist expert is on site working with the project team ensuring that internal structures and heritage that can be preserved will be restored to their original state as much as possible.

All Masses for the moment continue at their normal times at the nearby Temperance Hall and at the other parish churches. Please spread the word! The parish office and priests have been busy liaising with those who had booked weddings at the Cathedral in the coming years to help them in the task of re-locating their wedding liturgy. Funerals have taken place in the other churches in the Parish and in Newtownforbes Church in the neighbouring parish of Clonguish. Those who have baptisms booked for the coming weeks will be contacted and informed of the church in which the Baptism ceremony will now take place. Arrangements will be made for the hearing of Confessions in the near future.

Thanks to all for the wonderful messages of support. It is an extremely busy time for all of us here, but please be assured that all your words of encouragement are helping us get though difficult and emotional days. A sincere word of thanks to the teams of voluntary help that continues to power our parish activities and the organisation of our future re-location to facilities at St. Mel’s College. Our local media has been most helpful and facilitated us greatly as ever in the aftermath of the fire. The generous welcome by the people and priests of surrounding parishes has been of immense assistance to the people of the parish of Longford in these days. The open doors and kind hearts are sincerely acknowledged.

1st January 2010 – one week on from the Christmas Day Fire

The life of the parish continues as far as is possible under the circumstances. All Masses continue at their normal times at the nearby Temperance Hall and at the other parish churches. In a few weeks all Masses from the Cathedral will re-locate to facilities at St. Mel’s College. Weekday Masses will take place in the College Chapel and weekend Masses will occur in the school gym. This re-location involves a lot of preparation and planning. On Tuesday 29 December members of the Pastoral Council, Parish Finance Committee and the Temperance Hall Committee came together at St. Mel’s College to prepare for this move which will see us based there for a number of years. We are liasing with the school, health and safety, and local authorities to facilitate a smooth transition. The generosity and dedication of all involved is extremely heartening and much work is ongoing to make our new place of worship an inviting home for our liturgies and sacraments. The Friends of St. Mel’s Cathedral restoration fund is now up and running to facilitate the many people who have contacted us wanting to contribute to the work of reinstating the original splendour of St. Mel’s Cathedral.

At St. Mel’s Cathedral there is ongoing collaboration between the parish, diocese, the Gardaí, insurance company, loss adjusters, structural engineers, conservationists and other professionals to ensure that the building is made safe, forensically examined and as much heritage conserved as possible. This week has seen the arrival of Hegarty Demolition Ltd. who despite the name are here solely to secure the site and make the building safe for inspection. They are carrying out their work under the direction of the Gardaí and structural engineers. The next phase will see the forensic examination of the Cathedral to try and decipher where and how the fire began. After that is work is complete, the next task will be to recover those items which have survived the fire.