Galway fires

The Connaught Buildings on Mainguard Street originally housed Connolly’s, one of the largest hardware and fancy goods shops in Galway. It had an impressive four storey facade on the front and five storeys on the Church Street side. In 1934 the ground floor was leased by four tenants. A fire started on the first floor, the flames spread rapidly, and smoke could be seen rolling from the building. Half clad figures fought their way bravely down the stairs which threatened to give away any minute. The damage was extensive and estimated at £1,000, but much of the sum was made up of the stock of the ground floor tenants which included a lock-up fruit and vegetable shop rented by Mr P Hennigan. A Mr McDonnell and his brother had a tailoring business on the first floor.

Four years later, near the back of this building on Church Street, “a fire began with dramatic suddenness in Martin Flaherty’s fish and chip shop. Mr Flaherty’s wife was serving customers when, it appears, the flue caught fire and in less time than it takes to tell, a sheet of flames enveloped the huge range. Customers left their suppers unfinished and rushed from the premises terror-stricken. Some of the more plucky ones stayed to help quell the flames but their efforts were in vain. The fire quickly spread to the wooden cubicles which burned like matchwood.

“The Galway Fire brigade under Mr C J O’Callaghan, borough surveyor, and Captain T Duggan, were quickly on the scene. It was too late, however, to do anything for the shop which by this time was a roaring den of flames. Two families, Madden and Fortune, who were living on the second floor, quickly evacuated, and their furniture was removed through windows. The brigade had nine lines of hose and fought the blaze for three hours, concentrating on preventing the fire from spreading. The terrific heat cracked windows along the street.”

On May 28 1967, the Connaught Buildings on Mainguard Street went on fire again. This time the building housed the city’s biggest shoe store belonging to ‘The Boot King’, JP O’Neill, which was gutted, and the fire spread to the adjoining businesses of O’Donnell’s Chemist Shop, The Genoa Bar, and Holland’s newsagents. Three units of Galway Fire Brigade fought the blaze with help from units from Ballinasloe, Loughrea, Athenry, Tuam, and Mountbellew. Our photograph shows a couple of firemen damping down the building after the fire had been brought under control.

On March 25 1921, the Black and Tans set fire to the Sinn Féin Hall (later known as the Union Hall ) on Prospect Hill. Some of the burning embers travelled across the street to the row of thatched houses opposite. Teams of neighbours kept the roofs safe by constantly dousing them with buckets of water. This was only yards away from the site of the Shannon Cleaners building which was decimated by fire last week. Shannon Cleaners will continue its usual business in its other locations including Salthill, Eyre Square Centre, and Athenry, and it is our hope that Georgina Kenny and her staff will be back working in a new premises in Bohermore soon

The Old Galway Society starts its season of lectures tonight in the Victoria Hotel at 8pm with a talk by historian Cormac Ó Comhraí entitled “A night of terror in Galway, 8/9th of September, 1920”. A few fires were started in Galway that night too. All are welcome.

On this Saturday, September 10, Tim Byrne, a committee member of the Old Galway Society, will lead a group to Dublin to visit some 1916 sites in the capital. They will depart from Ceannt Station on the 9.30am train arriving in Heuston Station at 12 noon, and return on the 6.30pm train arriving back in Galway at 8.50pm. If you are interested, further details are available from Tim Byrne at 087 970 1353.

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