7 February 2010
Address by Bishop Colm O’Reilly to the County Longford Association in London
As I am sure most of you know by now, in the space of four hours or so the entire interior of one of the most beautiful buildings in Ireland was reduced to ashes. The City of London is no stranger to the kind of devastation that a huge fire can cause. We can learn from the approach of people of London regarding the spirit of hope and the enthusiasm which characterised the renewal of this great city in times of difficulty. An outcome of the Great Fire of London in 1666 was the rebuilding of the city and the design of some of its richest architectural heritage. Whilst nor compromising its historical significance, is it too much to hope that we might have a counterpart of the London tragedy and its aftermath in the restoration of St Mel’s Cathedral to its former glory?
I am very privileged to be able to be here in person and to update you on what has been happening back in Longford. As you probably know, we are fortunate that the well known and much admired portico and campanile of the Cathedral are still standing. In fact the front of the Cathedral looks more or less as it was before the fire of the early hours of Christmas morning last. The main walls are generally sound too. And work goes on in making safe and propping up areas that might cause problems in the future. Soon a temporary roof will be constructed in order to save the building from further damage due to intake of rain.
On the morning of Christmas Day – the day when the media focus on the Church is as the gathering of families and communities to celebrate the wonderful Feast of the Nativity – I was interviewed by Ciaran Mullooley, RTÉ television’s Midlands Correspondent on the destructive fire which had taken place only hours earlier. It was an emotional interview, almost surreal in the context of the special day. However I was acutely aware that there now existed a very real challenge to the faith community and to everyone who holds dear a love of Longford.
Ciaran Mullooley asked me the question : “Will the Cathedral be restored?” In answer to him I said to him : “It most certainly will”. Ever since Christmas Day messages of sympathy have been coming in and many of these have been accompanied by words of support and encouragement for our commitment to restoration. Many of those who wrote letters also included a donation .
I spoke with total confidence when I said I knew that the Cathedral would be restored. That confidence was not based on any assurance that we had enough money or would have enough money available to us to carry out the work of restoration. I was going much more on the goodwill and enthusiasm which I knew for certain would be in our community. Many people of course are now asking the question : Will we have enough money available to us to restore the Cathedral? I have no doubt that we will, eventually. We are well insured and our insurance company is being most helpful in every possible way at this stage.
We have not sought to encourage fundraising events. We have been receiving voluntary donations, as I have said, and are most grateful for these. All such donations are being put into a reserve fund to be used apart from money provided under insurance claim. The money in the reserve fund will be very important for enhancement work which can be carried out in the Cathedral and its environs and to improve services associated with the Cathedral in time to come.
Of course, the story of the destruction of the Cathedral in 2009 will be forever a dark chapter in its wonderful history. The interior of the Cathedral just now looks somewhat like what Coventry Cathedral must have looked like when it was bombed during the Second World War. I would be hesitant, I have to say, about showing pictures of it to yourselves. It is painful to view them
However, all is not bad news by any means. The two finest stained glass windows by Harry Clark Studios can be repaired and indeed all the windows have been so well copied that they can be replaced exactly as they were. Quite remarkably the very old painting of the Holy Family in a side chapel escaped the fire and a number of other things were also saved. Many people welcomed the news that in the Tabernacle the sacred hosts were undamaged by fire.
With the passing of time I have quite lost track of the number of people who have been asking me this question : “What can I do to help?” Some people in this room tonight may want to ask that same question . To as many as possible I would like to give a straightforward answer : “Be messengers of hope”. St Mel’s Cathedral will be back. It will be impossible to restore it to the way it was before the fire, of course.
A Cathedral is a lot more than an elegant and beautiful building. Always remember, I tell people, that any church large or small is first and foremost a place for prayer and for worship of God. A sacred place to be in the presence of Our Lord. The beauty of every church and every fine Cathedral is for a purpose, to lift our minds to what transcends the material world to the world of the spirit. St Mel’s Cathedral needs to be a Cathedral for the future as well as for the present. It must be a place where people long after our time will continue to “worship in spirit and in truth”, as Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well.
I thank you for your attention this evening.
Notes for Editors
- Bishop Colm O’Reilly was guest of honour at the annual dinner of the County Longford Association in London. Bishop O’Reilly delivered this address at 8:00pm on 5 February 2010.
Martin Long, Director of Communications 086 172 7678