St Mel’s Cathedral will receive a €30m facelift to its interior over the coming 14 months, keeping it on time for its planned opening in Christmas 2014. During the construction period, as many as 150 jobs will be created to complete the restoration – described as being the largest conservation projects of its kind in Western Europe.
Plans for the cathedral were unveiled this week as Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise, Colm O’Reilly, signed contracts for the project with Gem Purcell Ltd, a combination of Longford firm Gem Construction and Galway firm Purcell Construction.
Between them, the companies boast an impressive CV of previous projects, with courthouses in Sligo, Tullamore and Limerick among those carried out by Purcell Construction, while GEM has been involved in the restoration of Dublin Castle and the Department of An Taoiseach, Government Buildings.
Among the commitments announced is that the interior of the cathedral will largely be restored to its previous condition. The main changes include the location of the altar, which will be further forward and the relocation of both the organ and the baptisimal font.
The St Mel’s Cathedral project committee have also gone to great lengths to ensure that as much as possible of the restoration will be kept local. The contractors have undertaken to recruit at least 20 percent of their workforce from the local community and, where possible, local suppliers are being used for materials.
As part of the undertaking, the committee has also arranged two training programmes to be run in conjunction with the restoration. The schemes aim to educate participants in lime plastering, ecclesiastical decoration, stone fixing, brass and metalwork.
Speaking at the contract signing, Bishop O’Reilly paid tribute to the contribution of the late Richard Hurley in his “invaluable” role as architect in the project. “He was a professional with great pride in his work and enthusiasm for the project.”
Spokesperson for the contractor, Kevin Fay, said that Gem Purcell is delighted to be part of the project. “For me personally this has a particular resonance. I served as an altar boy here, I have sang in the choir, and my father hung the doors in the the cathedral in the 1960s, so I know what St Mel’s means to the people of Longford.”
St Mel’s Cathedral was gutted by a fire that broke out on Christmas Eve in 2009. The fire destroyed the roof and interior, including some priceless artwork and items of historical significance.