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The fire at St. Mel's Cathedral began shortly after 5am, a few hours after midnight mass had been celebrated.

St. Mel's Cathedral fire destroys Irish national treasures

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The fire at St. Mel's Cathedral began shortly after 5am, a few hours after midnight mass had been celebrated.

Priceless artifacts, many of them well over a century old, have been destroyed in the fire that gutted St. Mel's Cathedral in Longford town on Christmas Day. Police are investigating the fire which gutted the 154-year old structure. Door to door inquiries are being carried out to see if any evidence can be gathered.

The emergency services work at the scene was delayed by the weather conditions, with the water in the pipes frozen as overnight temperatures dipped to -10. A passer by alerted the fire brigade but the structure was reduced to rubble despite their best efforts.

Crowds gathered and watched in horror as the flames tore through the roof of the building, and destroyed the interior, gutting historical items dating back to the last century. It is thought that the fire started at the rear of the building and spread towards the front.

The Cathedral, which was built in 1856, featured priceless stained glass windows designed by the famed Harry Clarke, an invaluable "Second Coming" tapestry behind the Bishop's throne created by sacred art specialist Ray Carroll, and an 1860 belfry and an 1889 portico, both considered among the great architectural structures of any church in Ireland.

The fire began shortly after 5.a.m. Midnight mass had been celebrated in the cathedral by the Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise, Colm O'Reilly, who later said the Cathedral was completely destroyed. He has also promised to rebuild it.

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