St. Mel's College has emerged as the future venue for Sunday Mass in Longford town, with both the school's sports hall and chapel identified as the locations. While preparations are being finalised, Mass will continue in the Temperance Hall.
When the facilities are ready, the school's chapel will also host the daily Masses at 8am and 10am.
Speaking to the Longford Leader, Fr Tom Healy, Adm, said that in the days following the Christmas Day fire in St. Mel's Cathedral, a committee was formed with members of the Pastoral Council, the Temperance Hall Committee and the Parish Finance Committee.
Fr Healy said the principal in St. Mel's College, Damian Cunningham, contacted the presbytery to offer the chapel and gymnasium facilities in St. Mel's.
The chapel holds in the region of 130 to 140 people and has become largely inactive since boarding at the college came to an end some years ago.
Fr Healy said that once some small minor alterations have been completed, the twice daily Mass (at 8am and 10am) will take place there.
Those works, which include painting, heating and the installation of the Stations of the Cross, will take two to three weeks to complete.
For weekly Sunday Mass, Fr Healy said they plan to transform the school's sports hall. Local designer Noel Strange and Backstage Theatre manager Mona Considine have offered their services to come up with ways of transforming the gym into a place worthy for Sunday Mass.
"The gym will cater for 600 people and it has ample car parking," said Fr Healy, who added that the use of soft fabric and lighting will help to transform the venue.
He added that they were delighted to be able to secure a venue so close to the cathedral and thanked Mr Cunningham for making the facilities available.
The committee will devise a temporary set-up whereby the sports hall will be transformed on Saturday in time for Mass at 7.30pm, and for Mass on Sunday, after which it will be put back to its more familiar look in time for school on Monday. A decision has yet to be made on where to hold funeral Masses in the future and details of that will be announced in the coming week.
Fr Healy, who has been extremely busy since the blaze broke out on Christmas morning, said the reaction of people has been "overwhelming".
"The goodwill and support that has been shown since the disaster is really heartening, and I don't say that in a light way. People have been volunteering their support on a daily basis, and offering do help out in any way they can. People have been offering things like catering, storage facilities, vans and teleporters. The goodwill is certainly there among the Longford people," said Fr Healy.
In particular, Fr Healy thanked the emergency service staff. "We'd like to thank and compliment the Gardai for their work and County Longford Fire Service, who worked so hard. Also, thanks to the the local ESB crews and the local authorities for their help. We would also like to thank the Church leaders in the parish, who have been very supportive."
Long term, Fr Healy reiterated the plan to "fully restore the cathedral to as good as, if not better than before".
For now, Mass will continue in the Temperance Hall, Mass at 7.30pm on Saturday; Mass on Sunday at 8am, 10am, 11.30am and 1pm. There is also Mass on Sundays in St. Anne's Church, Curry at 9.30am and St. Michael's Church, Shroid at 10.30am.
Gardai to begin technical investigation
The Longford Gardai are hoping to begin their forensic investigations into the cause of the fire in St Mel's Cathedral by the end of this week. The scene was deemed as unsafe by a structural engineer last week and a private company has since been drafted in to render the interior of the cathedral safe to enter. A spokesperson from the Longford Gardai told the Leader, "A private company are working on the inside of the cathedral at present, rendering it safe, and it is hoped the forensic team will get into it in the next few days."
According to the spokesperson the forensic team who will carry out the investigation consists of 4 Gardai, two from Roscommon and two from County Longford but there have also been Gardai patrolling the scene of the fire for 24 hours a on a daily basis following the fire.
The Gardai estimate that the investigation itself may also take a number of weeks because of the size and scale of St Mel's Cathedral. The spokesperson commented, "The investigation could take several weeks as the forensic team have to sift through all of the rubble and speak to witnesses to find out exactly where the fire began and work from there."
The Longford Gardai have nearly concluded their door to door interviews with the public and they are now eagerly awaiting to begin their forensic testing this week.