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+ Bishop Colm O'Reilly - St Mel's Cathedral Fire, Christmas 2009

To the Priests and People of Ardagh & Clonmacnois

 

The fire that destroyed all but the portico, bell-tower and main walls of St Mel’s Cathedral has caused material damage which is, at this time, inestimable. The loss of so much of our Diocesan heritage is truly beyond the scope of any form of calculation. The pain caused by this tragic event is like a dagger in the heart of the Diocesan family. It has brought grief to many outside this circle too as is testified by the great volume of correspondence in the form of letters, emails, text messages and telephone calls that have come to Father Tom Healy Adm and to me. I want to add that some of the very kind messages received came from minsters of other faith communities, especially the Church of Ireland and the Methodists.


I am now writing the kind of letter that I never dreamt I would need to write. I must do so, since I wear a ring that Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich placed on my finger as a reminder that for my time as Bishop I am bound to the Diocesan family in a bond that, like marriage, is for good times and bad. I write this letter to acknowledge that we must stay together in this time of sorrow and bewilderment. I also write to bring some solace to the many who are quite truly heart-broken.


Firstly however, I must advert to the death of my predecessor, Cardinal Cahal B. Daly. He heard of the fire on Christmas Day and had left a message for me to return his call as soon as possible. I say with great sadness that hearing of the full extent of the damage done left him shattered. There is every likelihood that this news hastened his end. May his prayer for us help us through difficult days ahead and may the Lord reward him for his life of generous service, fifteen years of which were lived here.


Since Christmas morning the priority for the priests and pastoral team in Longford has been provision of suitable accommodation for the needs of the Parish community. This is now being put together in a way that will be satisfactory for the time required to achieve the restoration of the cathedral. The cooperation of certain bodies has been readily forthcoming to enable us to make these provisions. I want to recognise the excellent level of support given to the Church by the Local Authority. I must acknowledge, in particular, the manner in which the Principal of St Mel’s College has cooperated with us in offering to make the School’s facilities available.


When the Gardaí completed their investigations into the cause of the fire, they declared it to be accidental. No precise cause for the fire has been identified as yet. Furthermore, I would like to add that all renovations and all ongoing maintenance on the fabric of the cathedral were carried out to the very best standards. The care with which the sacristan carried out his duties has been meticulous beyond praise. Whatever may have caused the fire let no one attach blame to the faithful stewards of St Mel’s Cathedral.


Once some degree of normality has been restored to the life of the Parish here in Longford it will be necessary to commence the serious work of planning for the restoration of our cathedral. I want to repeat in this letter the commitment that I have made as early as Christmas Day. St Mel’s Cathedral must be restored. To do otherwise would be unthinkable. Looking at the front of the cathedral now we still see its “grand portico”, the iconic image well known to local people, visitors and passing traffic since its completion in 1893. I consider that we are blessed in the fact that the Cathedral façade looks as it did before the fire. I believe this view will continue to call us to press on with the work of restoration. No one can say how long that work will take but the best calculation suggests five years or so.


The main walls of the Cathedral are generally solid and safe. However, when restored its interior will inevitably have to look somewhat different from what we knew and admired so much. Yet I believe that its neoclassical elegance need not be lost. St. Mel’s Cathedral was the flagship of Irish cathedrals in its time and can again show the way forward in this new time when the Church seeks to be renewed and restored.


I write now to seek the support of the entire Diocese as we face a challenging task in the coming years. All that I am hearing about the reaction of people throughout the Diocese inspires confidence in me and gives great hope. You will be kept informed about the next steps that must be taken and more specific suggestions for ways in which the support we need can be given expression. I would expect that people with good judgment in design and in liturgical correctness will make constructive suggestions about what will be planned. Most importantly I ask for your prayers that we may all have the strength and the courage to face the future with hope.

 

Yours sincerely in Christ,


+ Colm O’Reilly, Bishop of Ardagh & Clonmacnois

Archived References  
       
Bishop Colm's Christmas Message 2010
Statement by Bishop Colm O'Reilly on the Dublin Report
Bishop Colm O'Reilly video interview for Mission Sunday 2009
Message on Diocesan Pilgrimage to Knock 2009
Homily by Bishop Colm for Trinity Sunday, on 150 years of SVP in Longford.
Bishop Colm's Pastoral Letter Easter 2009
Bishop Colm's Christmas Message 2008
Bishop's Letter to the Diocese, Easter 2008, 'on the way forward'.
Bishop's Message for the Year of Vocation
Bishop's Homily at Diocesan Pilgrimage to Knock, Sept 2007
Message from Bishop Colm on Ferns Report
Message from Bishop Colm on the death of Pope John Paul II
Homily by Bishop Colm at Requiem Mass for Pope John Paul II in St. Mel's Cathedral, 7th April
BISHOP'S MESSAGE FOR CHRISTMAS 2007
Statement from the Bishop, 27th May 2006
Homily at Clonmacnois Pattern Day, 2006
Bishop's Christmas Message 2005
Message from Bishop Colm for Vocations Sunday 2005