In an emotional letter sent out across the 41 parish diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnois in recent days, Bishop Colm O'Reilly said the combined financial and emotional effects of the fire at St Mel's Cathedral had cast a deep shadow over the Church. The letter was read out at all Masses in the Diocese at the weekend.
"I am now writing the kind of letter that I never dreamt I would need to write," stated Bishop O'Reilly. "I must do so, since I wear a ring that Cardinal Toms 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."
Though three and half weeks on, the veteran cleric said the fire was akin to "a dagger in the heart of the Diocesan family" but was a challenge which had only reinforced his determination to lead and in time overcome.
He added that the financial cost of rebuilding the Cathedral was hard to ascertain.
"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. 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," he added.
In taking solace from the many messages of support both he and his fellow priests had received over the past number of weeks, Bishop O'Reilly nonetheless conceded the diocese faced up to an uncertain and "challenging task" in the weeks and months ahead.