On Sunday September 25, an air of chilled awe enveloped St. Mel’s Cathedral as its doors once again opened and over three thousand Longford poeple took the opportunity to survey its scorched interior.
In total, over 3,000 people turned up on the day, giving a clear indication of the depth of feeling about the Cathedral.
Many spoke of celebrations and family events that had taken place in the landmark Cathedral, others just stood back silently and took in the devastation caused by the Chiristmas Day Fire in 2009.
Silently they walked the short narrow gangplank that took them from the western entrance to the eastern exit; a walk that crossed what was once a beautiful and ornate building.
“I’m devastated,” whispered Rose Kenny, a native of Longford town. “I was baptised here and all of this is bringing back memories of Christmas 2009.”
“I didn’t believe that the damage was so extensive,” she said. “All we can do is pray that it will be restored because it was so beautiful.”
Michael Masterson of Dromard, Moyne, was shocked. “It’s shocking to see the scale of everything, but that quickly gives away to the rebirth that’s going on here. There are great people in charge of this project and it’s great to see the work and the attitude that it’s creating around the town.”
Bishop Colm O’Reilly agreed that memories of that fateful day were once again to the fore of many minds. However, he believed that those memories should offer hope on a day such as the open day.
“For those who were here on Christmas Day 2009, it was such a chaotic day and it looked like there being no hope of repair at that stage,” he told the Leader. “A lot is being done and the most important part of the work is done to date. We set a timeline at the start and we’re still on target.”
According to Seamus Butler, chairperson of the St. Mel’s Restoration Committee, the open day afforded the committee the opportunity to show the public just how severe the interior damage was.
“A lot of people will now realise the exterior belies the appearance of the inside. It was absolutely devastated and that devastation is clear as you look around you today,” he said. “We have a massive job ahead of us but we hope to have a functioning cathedral once again by December 2014. We are somewhat daunted by it, but we know we have the goodwill of the people.”
For more pictures and a further report, see this week’s Longford Leader. Alternatively, subscribe to our E-Paper: www.longfordleader.ie/epaper where you can read the entire newspaper on your PC or Mac.