St Catherine’s Church to reopen in November

Photo: Charlie Heasman

Ann Watson and Joyce Reid inside St. Catherine’s Church Photo: Charlie Heasman

St Catherine’s Church on Meath Street is set to open its doors again soon, nearly two years after the disastrous fire which destroyed much of its interior in January 2011.

Restoration and repair work is now nearly complete and architectural firm Howley Hayes are provisionally due to hand back the keys of the church on November 10th. It is anticipated that a further two weeks will be needed to decorate and furnish the interior ready for use by the congregation.

Parish Priest Niall Coghlan praised architects James Howley and Connor Cooney, who specifically worked on the project, saying “they have been fantastic; they have been like a rock”.

There has been some speculation that the church’s insurance did not fully cover the cost of the damage, and that the deficit had to be made up by voluntary fundraising. “That is not actually true,” said Fr Coghlan, adding that the insurance company had been “superb”. “We did in fact have to raise an extra €230,000 – and I want to thank our volunteers and the Liberties people, all of whom put tremendous effort into the project – but a lot of that money was for work which needed doing that was not as a result of the fire.”

As an example he cited how, on lifting flagstones as part of the repair work, it was discovered that water pipes underneath were in an advanced state of corrosion and clearly needed replacing. This was obviously nothing to do with fire damage and therefore exempt from the insurance. It was also decided that the smoke-damaged pulpit, although salvageable under the terms of the insurance, would not be in keeping with the new interior and should therefore be replaced. Howley Hayes, in consultation with the Commission for Art and Architecture and Dublin City Council, designed the replacement. This was another expense.

Fr Coghlan went on to say that the parish was lucky that the church was restored at all. “If the church authorities had taken a hard-nosed monetary approach after the fire they might well have decided to let St Catherine’s go, like so many others around the country. In particular we can be grateful to Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, who decided the needs of the community outweighed the purely financial considerations.”

Although it is hoped that the church will re-open in November, it will not be complete until June 2014. This is when the stained-glass window over the High Altar will be returned. At present the window is glazed with plain glass.

Plans are underway for an opening ceremony. While nothing has yet been decided, a procession from nearby St John’s Lane Church is a likely option. Fr Coghlan explains that after the fire there was a procession from St Catherine’s to St John’s, symbolically headed up by a candle bearer carrying the one altar candle that survived the blaze. “St John’s has hosted us and it has been our spiritual home since then” he said. “It would be nice to make the journey in reverse.”

Two ladies who share similar sentiments are Anne Watson of the Meath Street Folk Group, and Joyce Reid, Parish Council member. On entering the nearly finished church they said “It’s so emotional; just like coming home. This is more than a church; it’s our community.”

With a total cost of €4.1 million the fire in St Catherine’s was, according to Gardaí, the biggest case of arson in the State.

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