the Priests and People of Ardagh & Clonmacnois
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. The loss of so
much of our Diocesan heritage is truly beyond the scope
of any form of calculation. The pain caused by this
tragic event is like a dagger in the heart of the Diocesan
family. It has brought grief to many outside this circle
too as is testified by the great volume of correspondence
in the form of letters, emails, text messages and telephone
calls that have come to Father Tom Healy Adm and to
me. I want to add that some of the very kind messages
received came from minsters of other faith communities,
especially the Church of Ireland and the Methodists.
I am now writing the kind of letter that I never dreamt
I would need to write. I must do so, since I wear a
ring that Cardinal Tomás Ó 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.
Firstly however, I must advert to the death of my predecessor,
Cardinal Cahal B. Daly. He heard of the fire on Christmas
Day and had left a message for me to return his call
as soon as possible. I say with great sadness that hearing
of the full extent of the damage done left him shattered.
There is every likelihood that this news hastened his
end. May his prayer for us help us through difficult
days ahead and may the Lord reward him for his life
of generous service, fifteen years of which were lived
Since Christmas morning the priority for the priests
and pastoral team in Longford has been provision of
suitable accommodation for the needs of the Parish community.
This is now being put together in a way that will be
satisfactory for the time required to achieve the restoration
of the cathedral. The cooperation of certain bodies
has been readily forthcoming to enable us to make these
provisions. I want to recognise the excellent level
of support given to the Church by the Local Authority.
I must acknowledge, in particular, the manner in which
the Principal of St Mel’s College has cooperated
with us in offering to make the School’s facilities
When the Gardaí completed their investigations
into the cause of the fire, they declared it to be accidental.
No precise cause for the fire has been identified as
yet. Furthermore, I would like to add that all renovations
and all ongoing maintenance on the fabric of the cathedral
were carried out to the very best standards. The care
with which the sacristan carried out his duties has
been meticulous beyond praise. Whatever may have caused
the fire let no one attach blame to the faithful stewards
of St Mel’s Cathedral.
Once some degree of normality has been restored to the
life of the Parish here in Longford it will be necessary
to commence the serious work of planning for the restoration
of our cathedral. 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. Looking at the front of the cathedral
now we still see its “grand portico”, the
iconic image well known to local people, visitors and
passing traffic since its completion in 1893. I consider
that we are blessed in the fact that the Cathedral façade
looks as it did before the fire. I believe this view
will continue to call us to press on with the work of
restoration. No one can say how long that work will
take but the best calculation suggests five years or
The main walls
of the Cathedral are generally solid and safe. However,
when restored its interior will inevitably have to look
somewhat different from what we knew and admired so
much. Yet I believe that its neoclassical elegance need
not be lost. St. Mel’s Cathedral was the flagship
of Irish cathedrals in its time and can again show the
way forward in this new time when the Church seeks to
be renewed and restored.
I write now to
seek the support of the entire Diocese as we face a
challenging task in the coming years. All that I am
hearing about the reaction of people throughout the
Diocese inspires confidence in me and gives great hope.
You will be kept informed about the next steps that
must be taken and more specific suggestions for ways
in which the support we need can be given expression.
I would expect that people with good judgment in design
and in liturgical correctness will make constructive
suggestions about what will be planned. Most importantly
I ask for your prayers that we may all have the strength
and the courage to face the future with hope.
Bishop of Ardagh & Clonmacnois