News, News archive 2011

Bishop Colm O’Reilly announces design team for the restoration of St Mel’s Cathedral, Longford

PRESS RELEASE
6 February 2011

Bishop O’Reilly announces design team for the restoration of St Mel’s Cathedral, Longford

If Christmas 2009 was one of the most painful days of my life as bishop, this is truly a hope-filled and joyful one – Bishop Colm O’Reilly

Today, the feast day of St Mel, the patron saint of the Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnois and the Cathedral in Longford, the media launch of the announcement of the design team for the restoration of St Mel’s Cathedral took place in Bishop’s House, Longford.  Please see below the addresses by Bishop Colm O’Reilly and Dr Richard Hurley, as well as a letter of support regarding a personal gift of a small stained glass window, Consecration of St Mel as Bishop, from President Mary and Martin McAleese given on St Stephen’s Day, 2009, the day after the fire in the Cathedral started.

Key Points

Bishop Colm O’Reilly

  • In St Mel’s Cathedral we celebrated a joyful Midnight Mass; dawn revealed a Cathedral ruined by fire.  The contrast between the happiness of the Mass at night with the heart-break of Christmas Mass could not have been greater.
  • If Christmas 2009 was one of the most painful days of my life as Bishop, this is truly a hope-filled and joyful one.
  • It is my hope that this immense challenge that we face will offer us an important opportunity for renewal, not only renewal of a destroyed Cathedral but renewal of a sense of community and creation of an understanding of the purpose that a cathedral fulfils.
  • It is in faith that all of us must set out on the journey towards restoration of St Mel’s Cathedral knowing that we will not walk alone, for God is with us.
Dr Richard Hurley
  • St Mel’s will rise again and live again as the centre of Catholic life in the Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise.
  • Sacred buildings are a faithful record of the mindset of the times in which they are built.  Hence the changes from age to age reflecting man’s relationship with God and the universe.  Church buildings shape and influence our religious beliefs.
  • While restoring the building is of the utmost importance, every step is being taken to reinstate the heritage of the building, it is ultimately an effective and forward looking liturgical environment which must be the primary consideration.  If this can be achieved the Cathedral will live again.
  • Part of our task in re-building St Mel’s is to make it a religious space of powerful resonance, respecting the past, living in the present and pointing towards the future. Our committed aim is to restore the Cathedral to its former architectural beauty, with a complementary contemporary liturgical intervention reflecting pastoral aspirations, supported by the arts which will make St Mel’s a worthy flagship of the Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise and beyond.

Address by Bishop Colm O’Reilly

Psalm 29 contains the following beautiful line:  “Tears come with the night but joy comes with the dawn”. The psalm does not mean literally that all sadness comes upon us at night time and all happiness with the coming of a new day.  In biblical language darkness is disaster, light is deliverance.  For the people of Longford at Christmas 2009 it was quite the opposite.  In St Mel’s Cathedral we celebrated a joyful Midnight Mass; dawn revealed a Cathedral ruined by fire.  The contrast between the happiness of the Mass at Night with the heart-break of Christmas Mass could not have been greater.

Today I believe we are taking an important step towards a new day when we will be able to reverse the disaster of Christmas 2009.  The signing of contracts by design team and client for the restoration of our Cathedral marks a new dawn for us.  If Christmas 2009 was one of the most painful days of my life as Bishop, this is truly a hope-filled and joyful one.

We have engaged two prestigious architectural firms which have formed an Alliance to plan and guide the restoration of our historic Cathedral.  I am extremely pleased  to have present at this Press Conference Dr Richard Hurley, our lead Design Architect and Mr Colm Redmond, architect from Fitzgerald, Kavanagh & Partners.  We are convinced that these two men and their respective firms which have formed an Alliance can deliver a restored Cathedral which will not just be faithful to its original architectural splendour but also a place of worship which will be inspirational for a new time in the life of the Church in Ireland.

Up to this point the plans for restoration of the cathedral have been handled by Mr Niall Meagher of Interactive Project Managers.  This firm was chosen after a very careful search among those with the needed expertise for this key role. They in turn have led the process of identification of the entire design team.  I welcome the Director of Interactive Project Managers, Ms Joan O’Connor, who, like Mr Meagher, is an architect.

Our design team can be assured of the full support of the hard working St Mel’s Cathedral Project Committee chaired by Mr Seamus Butler.  This committee which has been meeting every second week for many months is attended by a representative of our insurers, Allianz, Mr Gerry O’Toole and the Managing Director of OSG, the Loss Assessors, Mr Danny O’Donohoe.

In the current year, 2011, there is an immense task to be undertaken by the design team.  I am convinced that few people in the general population fully appreciate what is involved in planning work.  It is easy to see the product of a day’s labour by, for instance, a bricklayer. It is not so in the case of days spent reaching a decision about how best to create a design for a church sanctuary.  However, everything about how well the work of restoration is done will depend on how the design team completes the first phase of the work.

It is necessary at the present juncture in our journey towards restoration to invite a high degree of interest in the design work to be undertaken, by all parishioners of Longford and all in the Diocese as well.  It will shortly emerge, I can promise, that the design team will engage with the public about the big questions that we need to explore.  At an early stage ideas about restoration will be put forward for discussion.  It is my hope that this immense challenge that we face will offer us an important opportunity for renewal, not only renewal of a destroyed Cathedral but renewal of a sense of community and creation of an understanding of the purpose that a cathedral fulfils.

At this significant moment it is impossible not to think of the Founder of St Mel’s Cathedral, Bishop William O’Higgins.  He laid the foundation stone, taken from the ruins of the old medieval cathedral at Ardagh, in 1840. That day, the 19th of May, was a great occasion in Longford with an estimated attendance of 20,000 people present.  No one was to know on that joy-filled day that in seven years time all work would have ceased.  In a country decimated by the Great Famine it had begun to look like a ruin, abandoned and overgrown by weeds. However, six years later it would be opened for worship and so it would remain until 2009.

I remember today that Bishop O’Higgins set out with confidence and, while he did not live to see his dream come true, another man was there to complete the work.  Many times in history those who lay foundations never see the last phases of the work completed. We cannot predict with anything like certainty when the work we are undertaking will be completed. It is in faith that all of us must set out on the journey towards restoration of St Mel’s Cathedral knowing that we will not walk alone, for God is with us.

+Colm O’Reilly

Listen to an audio recording of Bishop O’Reilly’s address – click here

Address by Dr Richard Hurley

Christmas Day 2009 is a day never to the forgotten in the history of St Mel’s. A tragedy beyond words.  That day in the Temperance Hall Bishop Colm O’Reilly promised I quote “together we will rebuild our beloved St. Mel’s Cathedral”.  Courageous words in a cataclysmic situation.  It may be some consolation to remember and reflect upon the many similar occurrence to Christian places of worship down through the ages and how they rose from the ashes. The most famous example is of the great and majestic Cathedral of Chartres destroyed many times by fire, the last one on the night of 10 June 1194, rebuilt again and consecrated on 24 October 1260, eventually to become one of the glories of Christendom.  So it is with the same ardour and belief that St Mel’s will rise again and live again as the centre of Catholic life in the Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise. The first fruits of Catholic Emancipation, the great ashlar stone Cathedral of St Mel became synonymous with Longford and far flung surrounding counties.

Sacred buildings are a faithful record of the mindset of the times in which they are built. Hence the changes from age to age reflecting man’s relationship with God and the universe.  Church buildings shape and influence our religious beliefs. Three types of power influence our perception: divine power, personal power and very importantly the social power between the laity and clergy.  Church buildings are gold mines of information on Catholic worship. St Mel’s is no exception. Modern commentators feel it can be best read as an act of faith.  It is a classical building in a rural setting. The Madeleine in Paris, The Pantheon and the great Basilicas of Rome inspired Bishop O’Higgins when he became Bishop of Ardagh in 1829. It took fifty three years to bring his dream to completion.

There is no disagreement relating to the beauty of the interior. Unanimity prevails. To quote Christine Casey and Alister Rowan for instance “Keane’s interior is one of the most beautifully conceived classical spaces in Irish Architecture”. Their conclusion “What is beyond doubt is the success of his solution matched with craftsmanship of great quality.” All that, and the priceless artifacts were lost in a few hours on Christmas morning December 2009.  Our task is to recreate all that and more, to bring it back to life.

While restoring the building is of the utmost importance, every step is being taken to reinstate the heritage of the building, it is ultimately an effective and forward looking liturgical environment which must be the primary consideration. If this can be achieved the Cathedral will live again. This means the norm for designing liturgical space is the assembly and its liturgies. This is a theology shaped by physical spaces and by what happens in them, creating the environment in which the Cathedral liturgies send out their message of mystery and redemption. More space is required around each of the polarities supporting the celebrations, none more-so than the space surrounding the altar, the centre at the heart of the Eucharist celebration.  So, part of our task in re-building St Mel’s is to make it a religious space of powerful resonance, respecting the past, living in the present and pointing towards the future. Our committed aim is to restore the Cathedral to its former architectural beauty, with a complementary contemporary liturgical intervention reflecting pastoral aspirations, supported by the arts which will make St Mel’s a worthy flagship of the Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise and beyond.  This requires more of the heart, and less of the head. The entire team of St Mel’s of which I am honoured to be lead architect, are dedicated towards achieving this objective.

Dr Richard Hurley Arch (6 February 2011)

Listen to an audio recording of Dr Richard Hurley’s address – click here


Letter from President Mary McAleese and her husband Martin to Bishop Colm O’Reilly:

Uachtarán Na hÉireann

President of Ireland

 

The Right Rev Colm O’Reilly DD
Bishop of Ardagh & Clonmacnois
St Michael’s Cathedral
Longford
6 September 2010
Dear Bishop Colm,
I would like to thank you for your letter and your very kind words which both Martin and I very much appreciate.
We bought the piece, ‘Consecration of St Mel as Bishop’ in an antique shop in the Powerscourt Townhouse Centre, Dublin in 1988.  We made it the centre piece in the main window of our home ‘Kairos’ in Rostrevor until we sold the house a couple of years ago.  Since then we had been keeping it stored away in our home in Roscommon where we were looking for a suitable place for it.  When we heard about the fire at the Cathedral we knew that was the place.
We are delighted to hear that the restoration process of St Mel’s is well underway.  Martin and I wish you continued success on that front and look forward to the day when St Mel’s is fully restored.
With warmest good wishes
Yours sincerely
Mary McAleese
President of Ireland

Notes to Editors:

  • Bishop Colm O’Reilly was ordained priest on 19 June 1960 and ordained bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnois on 10 April 1983.  The Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnois has a Catholic population of 71,806. There are a total of 41 parishes in the diocese. The patron saint of the Diocese is St Mel, whose feast day is 7 February. The Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnois includes Co Longford, the greater part of Co Leitrim and parts of Counties Cavan, Offaly, Roscommon, Sligo and Westmeath.
  • Dr Richard Hurley has wide experience of church architecture, having overseen a portfolio of over 150 church projects in Ireland, Britain, Africa and Australia, includinig St Patrick’s College, Maynooth; St Stephen’s Cathedral, Brisbane, Australia; and Honan Chapel, University College Cork.
Further information:
Martin Long, Director of Communications 00353 (0) 86 172 7678
Brenda Drumm, Communications Officer 00353 (0) 87 310 4444

The IEC provides external links as convenience to our users. The appearance of external links does not constitute endorsement by IEC of the information, products or services contained therein.