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'As St Mel's rose from ashes, so can Notre Dame'

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Tiernan Dolan with a photo he took of damage caused to St Mel’s when it went up in flames

Tiernan Dolan with a photo he took of damage caused to St Mel’s when it went up in flames

St Mel’s when it went up in flames

St Mel’s when it went up in flames

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Tiernan Dolan with a photo he took of damage caused to St Mel’s when it went up in flames

Retired teacher Tiernan Dolan has told how he had a horrible sense of deja vu as he watched flames engulf Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral on Monday.

The sense of loss, helplessness and despair came flooding back as he recalled the fire that blazed at St Mel's Cathedral in Longford on Christmas Day 2009.

Only hours before, he and hundreds of other par- ishioners had braved the snow, ice and -14C chill to attend midnight mass.

"It was a lovely mass," Mr Dolan said.

Magical

"Coming out, the cathedral was like walking into a living Christmas card. The place was magical. You were on an absolute high."

However, that high came crashing down before the sun came up.

A chimney fire sparked a devastating blaze that ripped through the 175-year-old landmark in the early hours of the morning.

"You went from an absolute high to rock bottom," said Mr Dolan.

"You could see the yellow and orange flames dancing in the sky. It was horrible, like watching your best friend lying in a hospital bed on life support."

When Christmas Day dawned, the church was in ruins.

Gone was the 10th century crozier of St Mel and other priceless artefacts.

The cathedral roof was destroyed. The wooden floor sank into the crypt.

Ornate tapestries, paintings and statues were lost.

Locals wept openly on the street outside the church - as did those in Paris this week.

As Our Lady of Paris is to the people of the French capital, so is St Mel's to the people of Longford.

When Notre Dame went up in flames, they knew exactly what Parisians, and indeed the French nation, were going through, Mr Dolan said.

However, they also know what it is like to rise from the ashes.

Five years after the fire, St Mel's reopened in time for Christmas 2014 following a massive €30m restoration project.

Mr Dolan's message to the people of Paris is simple: "If we can rise from the ashes, so can you."