Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A disastrous fire in Kilcullen in 1900

The article below is from the Leinster Leader, Saturday December 8th, 1900, writes Brian Byrne. The painting above is by Richard Murphy and was done during WW2, but the shape of the Market Square is similar to what it might have been at the time of the fire 40 years before.

I came across this report while researching something else about Kilcullen around the same period. As a journalist I was fascinated both by the style and the detail of the story. In those days, reporters didn't get bylines, so we don't know who the writer was.

It is also interesting for the names of the people involved, especially the different spellings of some of them at the time, possibly in part because of how the reporter heard them and wrote phonetically. There are also instances of the wild apostrophe.

Disastrous Fire in Kilcullen

Three Houses Burned to the Ground


About 3 o'clock on Tuesday morning, the drapery house of the Misses McDonnell's, the Market Square, Kilcullen, was found to be on fire. The occurrence was first discovered by Miss Augusta McDonnell, who was awakened from her sleep by the crackling of the burning timber in the shop, underneath the rooms occupied by her sisters, herself, and their assistant Miss Burke. On discovering the fact she immediately aroused the other inmates, and then made her way out into the street, to the premises of Mr T J Dillon, auctioneer, and quickly roused that gentleman from his slumber by throwing a stone through his bedroom window.

Mr Dillon immediately raised an alarm which quickly gathered a large crowd of people, willing to render assistance at the scene of the conflagration. Meanwhile, Miss McDonnell went to the police station to report the matter. The first efforts of Mr Dillon and the others, who were attracted to the fire, were directed in securing the safety of the girls who were still in the burning building. Mr Dillon broke open the front door and rushed in, but was almost overpowered by the smoke and flames. On reaching the staircase he saw some of the girls leaving by the back door, but could not be certain that all had escaped. In this terrible state of uncertainty he was obliged to quit the house, on account of the fierce flames that lapped in their destructive embrace every inflamable material with which the place was largely stocked.

On regaining the street it was found, to the intense relief of the large crowd that had assembled, that the occupants were safe at least with their lives, but without having been able to save a single thing from destruction, goods, furniture, and cash, were all swallowed up in fierce flames that enveloped the building. The adjoining house, a fruit shop, occupied by a man named Edward Quinn and his wife, and child, was now also in flames, as well as that of Mr Charles Murphy, pump-borer.

The Quinn's with much difficulty got out of the burning premises with their lives having also lost all their furniture, clothes, and whatever else was in the house.

Mr Murphy and his family succeeded in saving the greater part of his furniture and property. The burned-out inmates found temporary shelter in the neighbouring houses.

The Fire Brigade arrived from the Curragh about 6.30 o'clock, but too late to save the three houses from utter destruction. Miss Doyle's house, which adjoins Mr Murphy's was however saved by cutting the roof between the two.

Amongst those who rendered great assistance during the terrible scene were Messrs Denis Brennan, Laurence Darby, TJ Dillon, Henry Flanagan, T Bernie, P Bernie, L Brien, John Collins, the two Flemmings, Doyles, Peter Barton and many others.

The greatest sympathy is felt for the people who suffered such severe losses, especially the Misses McDonnell, who not only lost all their goods, furniture etc, but a considerable amount of money, which unfortunately Miss McDonnell had on the premises intending the following day to make large Christmas purchases. To make matters worse none of the houses or property were insured for a penny piece.

The wonder is that the whole row of houses to the bridge, was not burned down, but this calamity was averted by cutting the roof between Murphy's and Miss Doyle's, and this great service was rendered by the Messrs Bernie and Robert Crowen, under the direction of Mr Henry Flanagan.

There is not the slightest clue to the origin of the fire, and the loss must have reached several hundred pounds. A general desire prevails that a subscription be opened, to indemnify the sufferers to at least some small extent.

(NOTE: It was purely a coincidence that I came across this as we were trying to absorb the news of the horrific tragedy in London. As are everybody's, the Diary's thoughts are with those affected by that awful disaster. At least in Kilcullen 116 years ago, nobody died.)