The Avondhu - By The Fireside



“On the night of April 7, 1908 a fire broke out at the rear of Daniels’ Tailors workshop. The ensuing blaze gutted the east side of the Square…” Redmond Tobin, local archaeolog­ist and former director of the Fermoy Architectu­ral Society, wrote in The Avondhu in the late 1980s, of the incident as reported in the press of the time and reconstruc­ts the events from correspond­ence uncovered in the files of the Fermoy Urban District Council.

Pearse Square (formerly Queens Square) has always offered a very imposing facade to the town of Fermoy opening north onto the River Blackwater and the bridge. When viewed from the north, the quays and Square offer a fine, impressive frontage. The facades of the Square are so constructe­d and decorated as to make the frontage the envy of any Irish town. This vista has changed over time, from the town’s founding to the present day. Most of the changes have been small, changes in ownership and changes of shopfronts. The eastern frontage of the Square has progressed through several changes. In 1900 the street frontage was largely uniform in height, beginning from the north with the Public Bakery, Mannix’s, Daniels, Quinlans, Punches, Tylers and the Munster Bank.

On the night of April 7, 1908 a fire broke out at the rear of Daniels’ Tailors workshop. The ensuing blaze gutted the east side of the Square, severely damaging Mannix’s premises and totally destroying Daniels, Quinlans and Punches. In the course of the fire the fronts of these three premises collapsed. Before the fire was brought under control, the fire had also damaged the premises of Tylers.

The fire was fought by the local Military Fire Brigade from both barracks, but the pressure of the local water supply was not sufficient to control the flames, and telegrams were sent by the UDC asking for assistance. The fire was eventually brought under control and damage was estimated at £30,000.

What follows is the scene, as reported in the Cork Examiner of the April 9, 1908 (Thursday Edition).

“Very seldom of late has there been such a serious fire, involving so much damage as that which occurred in Fermoy early yesterday morning. About 10.30 on Tuesday night the fire was first discovered in the back premises of Mr Daniels tailors’ workshop, and soon it extended … to involve the whole of the east side of Queen’s Square. There is no informatio­n as to the starting of the fire but .... the flames spread with such devouring rapidity it was found not alone necessary to requisitio­n the immediate services of the local military fire brigade, but ... it (was) desirable that assistance be obtained from Cork, and… a telegraphi­c summons was sent to the Cork Fire Brigade and assistance in the way of one-horse reel, containing 900 feet of hose … arrived about 4.30 o’clock am.

“This was welcome and loudly cheered, but still more enthusiast­ically an hour after was the advent of a steam engine greeted.”

The report goes on to describe how the alarm had originally been given by Mr Sheehan of King Street (MacCurtain St.) who noticed smoke coming from the back of Daniels’ workshop. The town bell was rung and the military (in both barracks) and the police were called.

“The Military numbering about fifty arrived with manual engine and hose… (they) brought the engine to the Artillary Quay side, (but)... an effort to utilise the river supply was unsuccessf­ul.

“The fire was now eating its way into the premises of Mr Edmond J Quinlan, Draper and Woollen manufactur­er, the fire was now blazing in all its fury, and... in an incredibly short space of time both buildings (Quinlan’s and Daniels) were one red blaze.

“Daniels’ and Quinlans’ were now doomed, but it was thought that the conflagrat­ion could be confined to those two. However, this was not to be the case, as the fire had eaten its way at the rere (sic) of Quinlan’s into Messrs Punch’s store in Store Lane and the fire… was quickly fed by the spiritous liquor and wines stored therein. In less than three quarters (sic) of an hour these splendid concerns, which were second to none in the South of Ireland, were utterly demolished.”

In the wonderful, classical style of the day, the correspond­ent goes on to describe, in considerab­le detail “the sight as witnessed by thousands of spectators on Queen’s Square (which) was gorgeously appalling, the lurid tongues of flames from the spiritous essences and the inflammabl­e materials, bursting into the atmosphere in flickering orbs, completely absorbed or eclipsed all the artificial lights surroundin­g.”

Good news was reported, that the income tax office situated over Daniels shop, was also destroyed with all its documents.

In the course of the architectu­ral survey of Fermoy while examining the UDC papers, we uncovered most of the informatio­n relating to this incident, including the newspaper reports, telegrams sent by William Eager, chairman of the UDC and by the Town Clerk PJ Lane, to Cork Fire Brigade; as well as telegrams and correspond­ence following the blaze.

Among the UDC papers we have found illustrate­d catalogues from Mason and Co. showing their patent “Double Vertical Steam Fire Engine” (costing between £400 and £800); also their catalogue of Fireman’s uniforms and ‘Accoutreme­nts’. It appears from a newspaper report of the time that Fermoy had no municipal fire service apart from the service offered by the military but were examining the possibilit­ies of establishi­ng such a service, either at the time of the incident or as a direct result of the fire.

The destroyed buildings were replaced in 1908 by the present buildings which although very impressive, have altered the symmetry of the square. Tylers remained in business, eventually being taken over by Allied Irish Banks in the 1970’s. The Munster Bank was demolished in the early 20th century to be replaced by the present Allied Irish Banks premises.

 ?? ?? The east side of Queen’s Square, Fermoy in the aftermath of the great fire.
The east side of Queen’s Square, Fermoy in the aftermath of the great fire.

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