Christmas Day in the Pro-Cathedral, 1842

This photograph of Lower Abbeygate Street was taken from the top of a warehouse on the corner of Whitehall c1870. In the foreground you can see the remains of the Browne Mansion, and the original site of the Browne Doorway. Further up the street is the Pro-Cathedral, which was the site of an appalling disaster on Christmas Day, 1842. The following, which appeared in The Dublin Pilot, is a graphic account of what happened.

“I write to give you the earliest information of a very sad catastrophe which occurred this morning in the parish chapel. As is usual here on every Christmas morning, the first Mass is read at 6am. The doors opened at 5am. There is always an Irish sermon at first which is attended almost exclusively by country people, the inhabitants of the Liberties of the town, and the working classes. Before 6am, the chapel was so densely crowded that there was no getting into it, either by the aisle or the gallery.

“In the centre of the aisle, under a large chandelier, is a high step ladder which opens out in the form of the letter A. On this some persons were crowding up, and by some means or other, broke one or two of the steps. The noise of the crash or break being heard plainly in the gallery, the persons there thought it was giving way whereupon a rush was made to the staircase which is not very wide; some of the first getting down, from the great pressure, fell over and those immediately behind them fell over them, and thus, from the constant pressure from above, there was not time to extricate them, until, melancholy to relate, from 40 to 50 have been taken up quite dead.

“Never was a more distressing scene witnessed than the multitudes coming in from the surrounding districts looking out for some friend or other among the dead, and then the screams and shouts as each discovered a father, mother, sister, or brother. While I write, 7 bodies lie at the Commercial News-room; the town dispensary is also full as are the watch-house and Temperance-rooms, and the sacristy of the chapel. One of the doctors in attendance told me he never heard of so many cases without one recovery; in short, anyone that fell did so to rise no more. Not the smallest damage was done to the chapel, with the exception of the windows which the crowd broke, and threw themselves into the street, so dreadful was the alarm; others threw themselves into the aisle of the chapel. If all had remained quiet, no damage would have been done as there were no grounds for the alarm.

“Drs Browne, Gray, Moran, Calahan and O’Grady are using all their skills for the sufferers. At this moment (Two o’clock ), 35 persons are dead and it is supposed that from 10 to 15 more will shortly be numbered among the dead. There are a great many maimed, they are all of the lower class such as poor tradesmen, labourers and servants. There was no danger at all of the gallery giving way.”

The Old Galway Society lecture will take place this evening at the Victoria Hotel at 7.30pm. The subject is ‘Surveys of the IHS ceramic tiles in Galway city’ and it will be given by Eamonn Fitzgerald. All are welcome.

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