An historic cathedral was destroyed today in a Christmas Day fire.
St Mel’s Cathedral in Longford was completely gutted after a blaze tore through the building just a few hours after midnight Mass had been celebrated.
Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise Colm O’Reilly said the cathedral had been burned to a shell after fire ripped through it from end to end.
“It’s destroyed,” the distraught bishop said.
Flames almost 60 feet high were reportedly seen coming from the roof of the cathedral as several fire brigade units battled for hours to bring the blaze under control.
Bishop O’Reilly, who celebrated midnight Mass, told RTE Radio it was a dreadful day for him.
No one was injured in the fire.
Garda detectives and fire investigators were examining the cause of the blaze, which is thought to have broken out at around 5am.
It is believed the blaze may have started at the back of the cathedral before spreading.
Christmas Day masses were being said at a nearby community centre, the Temperance Hall.
Building work on the cathedral, a flagship church in the midlands, began in the 1840s.
The foundation stone was laid by Dr Higgins, the Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise on May 19 1840 and completed on September 29 1856 by the Right Rev John Kilduff, his successor.
Completion of the cathedral was delayed by about 10 years because of the famine.
The consecration took place on May 19 1893, the 53rd anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone, in memory of St Mel, a missionary who travelled to Ireland with his uncle St Patrick.
Bishop O’Reilly said: “It’s the kind of nightmare that you never thought you would ever suffer, you have to say.
“I suppose the only thing you can compare it to is a big bereavement, a serious bereavement, and I’d say that feeling is shared by Longford people, by the priestly Diocese and by lay people but particularly of Longford.”