It is estimated that 40,000 people gathered to witness the laying of the foundation stone of St Mel’s Cathedral in 1840.
The Rededication of the Cathedral on Sunday did not draw tens of thousands but the attendance of President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina along with the Catholic primate Archbishop Eamon Martin and retired Catholic primate Cardinal Sean Brady testified to the significance of the occasion.
Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin attended the ceremony along with 24 bishops from around the country and priests from across the diocese.
People from the forty-one parishes of the diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnois joined representatives of the Church of Ireland and Methodist communities and many of those involved in the Cathedral’s restoration at the ceremony which revealed the Cathedral in all its splendour.
Chief celebrant on the day was Bishop Francis Duffy, Bishop of Ardagh & Clonmacnois, assisted by Bishop Colm O’Reilly, Bishop Emeritus of Ardagh & Clonmacnois. Battery Road native Bishop Richard Higgins, Auxiliary Bishop of the Military Services, USA; bishops and clergy also assisted in the ceremony.
The event was a logistical triumph for all those involved in its organisation, both clergy and lay people, as nearly 1,000 people gathered in the Cathedral to celebrate its Rededication five years after it was destroyed by fire.
The ceremony held on the Feast of the Ascension marked the 175th anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone by Bishop William O’Higgins on May 19 1940.
Without doubt one of the highlights of the Rededication was the outstanding performance of the joint St Mel’s Cathedral Choir and Longford County Choir led by organist Fintan Farrelly, who ensured the Ruffatti Organ was showcased to perfection.
Welcoming those in attendance Bishop Francis Duffy acknowledged Bishop Colm O’Reilly with a word of appreciation and gratitude.
Bishop Duffy also paid tribute to all those who celebrated life’s milestones in the Cathedral.
“We give thanks for the generations of Longfordians and people from the parishes throughout the diocese whose families and communities marked significant moments in this Cathedral,” Bishop Duffy said.
“All those whose commitment to this parish and Cathedral make it the welcoming and worshipping place it is.”
Bishop Colm O’Reilly spoke of the role the Cathedral plays in the life of Longford town and how the restored building was reaching out to a greater congregation.
“In Longford we are conscious of having now the great privilege of having a much-admired and regularly visited Cathedral,” he said.
“Our liturgies are reaching out to a wider community. On Sunday mornings we have bigger congregations than we have been seeing for a considerable time. Our webcam is reaching people far from Longford.
“These privileges bring responsibilities. It may sound inconsequential to speak of one Cathedral in a relatively small town being empowered to reach out to so many, but the Gospel of this day would warn us not to shelter behind any false modesty.”
He paid tribute to all those involved in the restoration of the Cathedral and quoted the words of one returned Longfordian who visited since it was re-opened.
“How could it feel extraordinarily fresh and different, like a cathedral of a brand new century, while it is really the same old building minutely and lovingly restored in all its finest details?”
Speaking about the redesigned Cathedral square, Bishop Colm said it was crafted to reach out and say ‘welcome’ to all.
“Now we want to see this sacred space filled with young and old, natives of Longford and people who are natives of other countries who have come to live here.
“We want it to be a place where all will feel welcome, especially those who come with heavy hearts and those searching for answers to questions for which the world has no solutions.”
After the ceremony, the congregation made their way to St Mel’s College for refreshments compliments of an anonymous benefactor.
It is understood that later in the evening President Higgins and his wife Sabina Coyne returned to take a closer look at the Cathedral before they travelled back to Áras an Uachtaráin.