1856 – St. Mel’s Cathedral, Longford

Architect: John B. Keane, John Bourke, George C. Ashlin

Irish Builder and Engineer


Originally designed by J.B. Keane in 1840 but construction was held up by the Great Famine of 1845-47. Despite this delay it still opened for worship on 29 September 1856. The 1860 campanile belfry was designed by John Bourke, and differs from Keane’s original intended ‘tower of the winds’ design. The portico was added by George Ashlin 1889-1913 with Christ blessing the faithful in the pediment carved by George Smith.


The design was denounced by Pugin as “a bad copy of that wretched compound of pagan and Protestant architecture- St Pancras, new church London.” Gutted by fire on the night of 25 December 2009. After a restoration costing over 30 million Euro, it has reopened.

“We give with this issue a view of the New Portico to the above, now just completed.The work, which had then been in contemplation for some years, was commenced in the year 1889, but, owing to the very great size of the stones required, the quarrying offered unusual difficulties, and consequently the work at the building did not commence for a considerable time after.

The Portico, which is in the Ionic Order, is 95 ft. wide and 20 ft. deep, the columns being 4 ft. 6 in. in diameter; the height to the soffit of the lintel is 87 ft., and to the apex of the tympanum 62 ft., measured from the top of the fine flight of steps which runs round the Portico.

The material used in the work is limestone from Knock, near Longford, and the work is an excellent testimony of the capacity of the limestone quarries of Ireland to supply building material of the finest quality in practically any size that could be required. For instance, in the building there are stones upwards of 10 ft. long in each direction, and many stones of five or six tons in weight. The work has been carried out by Messrs. Meade and Sons, of Dublin.

The sculptured group in the tympanum, representing the Consecration of St. Mel, the founder of the diocese, likewise the statues over the pediment, were executed by Mr. George Smith, of Dublin, and deserve special notice from their exceptionally colossal size as well as from the excellence of their treatment. The centre statue over the pediment representing the Redeemer is 10 ft. 9 in high, and the statues in the group are nearly 10 ft. high. All this sculpture is in Portland stone, and considerably entrances the effect of the Portico. Considerable improvements have been made in the Cathedral internally, including: two new marble altars, erected by Messrs. O’Neill and Co., Dublin; new marble communion rail, by Mr. E. Sharp, of Dublin; brass communion gates and gas-fittings, by Messrs. M“Gloughlin and Son, Dublin; new bishop’s throne; screens and stalls, hy Messrs. Bull, of Dublin; and new nave seats, by Messrs. Beakey, of Dublin; also mosaic floor of chancel, by Messrs. Oppenheimer, of Manchester.

In connection with the foregoing, considerable building work has been done by Mr. Kelly, of Longford, and the Cathedral is being at present entirely re-decorated by Mr. Hodkinson, of Limerick. All the works have been carried out from the designs of Mr. G. C. Ashlin, R.H.A., architect, Dublin, and under his immediate supervision. The church is to be re-consecrated on May 23rd, when the ceremonies will be of the most imposing character.” The Building News

St. Mel’s Cathedral, Longford. – The great campanile in progress of erection to this structure has already reached to considerably over 100 feet above the surface of the ground. The massive stone columns which surround the bell chamber are nearly half completed, and the structure already gives promise of the striking and imposing effect it will have when crowned by its graceful dome and decorated cross 166 feet over the entrance steps. The works have been suspended until the return of favourable weather, when it is expected another season will complete this, the most striking feature of the greatest of our modern cathedrals in Ireland. After its completion the great portico will still remain to be erected, but there is little reason to doubt that at no very distant time this great cathedral will possess all the adjuncts requisite to render it complete in all its parts. The new diocesan seminary, it is expected, will be commenced early in spring on a site adjoining the cathedral. Freeman’s Journal.

The Cathedral of St. Mel’s was originally designed by Mr. Keane, architect, but at the accession of the present bishop the works were entrusted to Mr. John Bourke, architect, who modified and altered considerably the design for the interior, and added The population is about 5,500 inhabitants, and has been numerically increasing steadily since the famine of 1847. Every Monday there is a market held, and a large amount of business transacted, chiefly comprising exports of corn, eggs, and butter; four fairs are likewise held during the year. The town has macadamized streets, and paved path two additional columns to complete the cella and support an organ ways; and ground in the principal streets, viz., Knox-street, a gallery. vestibules, over the central one of which will be erected the campanile) nave with apsidal termination, aisles, transepts, sacristies, libraries, confraternity rooms, &c., the extreme length including portico being 240 feet, and the breadth in clear of nave and aisles 87 feet, and across transepts 130 feet. The nave is separated from aisles, and the aisles from transepts by Ionic columns of native limestone, with arches springing directly from the capitals, and at the intersections of the arch mouldings are half length figures of demi-colossal size in various attitudes of devotion.

Above all, a heavy entablature is continued, and the ceiling of nave is semi-cylindrical divided into double recessed coffers by arcs doubleaux, the lower portion being pierced by Dioclesian windows lighting the nave. The aisles and transepts are ceiled with deeply recessed coffers, and have heavy dentil cornices. The erection of the campanile is about being commenced after an altered design by Mr. Bourke, and will be in three compartments, the first octagonal, deeply-recessed on four faces, and containing niches for figures of the four Evangelists, together with a pedestal for the statue of St. Mel ; the second to be a couple columned temple, containing a belfry and having pediments, inverted trusses, &c.; the upper, or third, will be a drum, crowned by a dome and pierced with circular and rectangular opens, the whole surrounded by an open lantern and gilt bronze cross at a height of 166 feet from the ground. The erection of the great portico, 96 feet in length, has been delayed owing to the difficulty of transporting blocks of native limestone of sufficient size, which probably may cause the adoption of Portland stone instead, which can be brought into town by direct water carriage.