Five youths questioned in connection with Tuesday’s fire

Five juveniles have been questioned by Gardaí in connection with a fire that destroyed one end of the historic Hermitage building located on the grounds of the Marist College on Retreat Road.

The youths are believed to be from the Athlone area. They were interviewed following a Garda investigation, and admitted to their role in the incident, Sergeant Andrew Haran told the Athlone Advertiser on Wednesday this week. A file is currently being prepared for the Juvenile Referral Office.

Athlone Fire Services was alerted to the blaze at 2am on Tuesday morning via a phone call from a member of the public.

Two units responded to the emergency and worked through the night to put out the fire, but sections of the building were engulfed by the time they reached the scene, with flames billowing up its left side and spreading to the roof. The Fire Service continued to work to save the building, not leaving the scene until 9.30am Tuesday morning.

The building, which dates back to the early years of the nineteenth century, has served a variety of purposes throughout the decades, initially acting as a home for the Marist Order.

It served as a rehabilitation centre for alcoholics and drugs addicts from the early 1980s, to tackle a perceived rise in alcohol and substance abuse at the time, closing its doors after 20 years due to a lack of funding.

More recently the building was used by the local Gaelscoil, Scoil na gCeithre Máistrí, which vacated it in 2008 to move to a new premises. Since that time, the building has fallen into disrepair, and it is now predominantly derelict.

Gardaí believe that the extremely poor condition of the building made it easier for the juveniles to gain entry this week.

Later on the same day, much of the east side of Athlone was covered in thick black smoke and emergency services were called to the scene as a tyre fire engulfed an abandoned structure near Garrycastle. Emergency services extinguished the blaze by late evening. The two incidents were unrelated.

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