Notre Dame disaster evokes St Mel’s memories

Kevin Forde


Kevin Forde


The fire at St Mel's Cathedral in 2009

The recent tragedy at Notre Dame cathedral has stirred up some past memories for Longford residents.

On Monday evening at approximately 6:30pm, April 15, news broke worldwide of a fire in the cathedral at Notre Dame and the world watched on as over 400 firefighters battled to get the blaze under control. After fifteen hours, it was confirmed that the fire was finally extinguished and although the spire and wooden interior of the cathedral were lost late on Monday evening, the structure of the building remains mostly in tact.

French authorities have confirmed that most of the valuable artwork which was contained in the 850-year-old cathedral has been saved and is stored away safely. Reports from French media suggest that the large stained-glass rose window, for which the cathedral is famed worldwide, has suffered minimal damage.

Emmanuel Macron has pledged to rebuild the structure and already many billionaires have pledged their cash to the cause. Among those is the family of Bernard Arnault, the owners of Louis Vuitton, who pledged €200m in total to the rebuild.The CEO of the Kering Group which owns Yves Saint Laurent and Gucci, François Pinault, has also pledged €100m. The President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, has pledged the support of Europe in helping France rebuild the cathedral.

The rebuild which will take place on the banks of the river Seine has evoked some memories of the recent restoration of St Mel’s Cathedral, which was destroyed by a fire in December 2009.

Cllr Seamus Butler said of the fire, “It reverberated around Longford. Obviously it is on a much grander scale than the fire at St Mel’s, but the elements are all the same, the sudden fire of a beloved, iconic building.

“Notre Dame is not just an iconic building in Paris or France, but in the world,”

After five long years and €30m spent, the doors to St Mel’s Cathedral finally reopened in December 2014. Cllr Seamus Butler, who was a member of the committee behind the restoration of St Mel’s, offered some words of hope to the authorities in control of the Notre Dame rebuild.

“There is obviously some irreplaceable art which has been destroyed and will never be replaced, but there is a slight silver lining in that in Longford, we set a deadline to have a functioning cathedral within five years, which we were told was extremely ambitious, but we did it.

“We did it on time and on budget. We were lucky perhaps, but we worked hard on it. It was a demanding time and there were demanding negotiations, especially during the restoration. But they will have huge resources in France, far more than we had, and they have the state behind them,”

Cllr Butler also noted that the rebuild in St Mel’s allowed them to make improvements, which would not have been permitted otherwise.

“The order of cost of St Mel’s was €30m and that made it one of the biggest restorations of a cathedral in Europe at the time. This will  obviously be dwarfed by Notre Dame.

“Every cloud has a sliver lining and they will, god willing, emerge with the original material restored. One of the ironies of our restoration is that we now have one of Europe's most modern cathedrals,  because we used the trauma to make changes that may not have been allowed otherwise.”

The changes mentioned by Cllr Butler include the state of the art ventilation system now in place and underfloor heating.

Cllr Butler advised, “They can use it as a vehicle for certain improvements as well.”

Cllr Butler's sentiments about St Mel's were echoed by members of the Longford public.