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CITY TRIBUNE

50 years on: the day that Galway burned

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The Corbett's premises (now Corbettcourt) destroyed by the fire

Today marks 50 years since the very fabric of Galway city centre went up in flames, the ‘Big Fire’ which ripped through 26 buildings. Here we look back at the inferno which caused an estimated €100 million worth of damage by today’s values.

The blaze began some time before noon on Monday, August 16, 1971 in the warehouse of McDonogh’s at Merchant’s Road – part of what is now the Eyre Square Shopping Centre.  Over the space of six hours, a total of 26 buildings were damaged to varying degrees – some were completely gutted, including McDonogh’s warehouse and yard and Corbetts (now Corbettcourt).

The fire ravaged McDonogh’s yard.

Sixteen fire brigades with 100 men from Galway, Mayo and Athlone fought the blaze and despite its strength at the ferocious speed at which is spread, saw no casualties.

The entire city centre had to be cordoned off and there were reports the flames were visible as far away as County Clare.

As our sister newspaper, the Connacht Sentinel, reported at the time: “The flames raced through the [McDonogh] building which contained large stocks of timber, coal and briquettes.

The flames jumped across the road to the top of the United Dominion Trust building and three times, firemen had to tackle this outbreak.

“Gallons of water were poured on the National Bank premises as staff and volunteers being removing files and documents. The Civic Sword and the Great Mace were among the first valuables removed to safety.

“The Fire Chief said that while water pressure was low at the start of the operation, nothing could have prevented the flames from spreading because of the highly flammable materials involved at the outset.

“Water was taken from the Docks and the River Corrib and thousands of gallons were poured into the area for hours. The army sent in 50 men from Dún Uí Mhaoilíosa to help cordon off the city centre and 26 members of the FCA and Civil Defence were also on duty. All Gardaí in the city area were called in, and traffic of every kind was banned from the main centre.

“Immediately the danger became evident, all the premises along Eyre Square to Williamsgate Street were evacuated and staff and volunteers began removing equipment and files.

“At this stage, the fire had a firm hold on the area between McDonogh’s, Whitehall and Corbetts and despite the best efforts of the brigades, it finally burst out through the shop premises of Corbetts, destroying the entire building.

“The flames then threatened the buildings across the road – Fallers, the Corrib Restaurant, Moons – and water was played on these premises at the peak of the danger.

“All of the other buildings within the fire area were damaged, some very badly. The Blackrock Tailoring Company (more recently ‘Monsoon’, which was almost burned out), Whelan’s Medical Hall, Glynn’s (Treasure Chest), McDonogh’s shoe shop (Logue’s), etc.

Historian and Galway City Tribune columnist Peadar O’ Dowd from Bohermore, was also on the scene and years later recalled: “It was a huge fire which destroyed the south/east block of the square. It was the timber yards and stores of Thomas McDonogh and Sons that bore the brunt of the fire – what’s there now is the Eyre Square shopping centre. The fire raged the whole day long and as far as I know it was smouldering for up to 48 hours after that,” he said.

“We don’t know what time it started but we think it might have been around midday. By two o’clock, however, things were really bad. I don’t know whether the initial blaze began in Corbetts or McDonoghs. The roofs were made of tar and there was coal, timber and many other flammable materials stored in the building.

“We don’t know what caused it – nobody ever found out. But we do know it was an accident – with so much flammable material around obviously something like that might happen. I know people in Ennis, Co Clare could see the smoke, so that gives some indication as to the magnitude of the fire. We were very lucky – much of the city centre could have gone up in flames.”

Despite the terror and devastation, it turned out to be a galvanising force for the many people who poured into the Square to try and help in any way they could.

“So many people who were not directly involved with the fire all joined in to help. I can still see in my mind’s eye people stacking personal belongings up in piles in Eyre Square, all of which had been taken out of buildings,” Peadar remembered.

Workers from the National Bank in Eyre Square bring files to safety.

“The fire brigade stopped it from spreading. There are still photos around of people gathering their belongings and carrying stuff out of buildings,” added Peadar. “There were bank workers hoisting valuables and files out of the Bank of Ireland which was at the bottom of Eyre Square at the time. It was located where the entrance to the shopping centre is now. That was long before computers or the internet, so everything was stored manually.”

In total, the value of the damage was put at £2 million, estimated to be more than €100m in ‘today’s money’.

CITY TRIBUNE

Councillors back bid to ban city centre parking in Galway

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – Councillors have unanimously agreed to ask Transport Minister Eamon Ryan to limit parking to residents only in the city centre.

Pedestrians in the city are being treated like second-class citizens, according to the Mayor, who said cars continued to get the priority on Galway’s streets.

At a meeting of the City Council this week, Mayor Colette Connolly (Ind) said the city had come to a standstill in car traffic, and pedestrians and cyclists were suffering the consequences.

“At junctions, why am I a second-class citizen in my own city as a pedestrian? It rains in Galway for 300 days of the year, but I am a second-class citizen when priority is given to motorists.

“It’s always the pedestrian that waits,” she said, hitting out at the length it took to get a green light to cross at pedestrian crossings.

One way to reduce the number of cars in the city centre would be to limit parking to residents only in the city centre, said the Mayor.

In a motion she proposed, seconded by Cllr Mike Cubbard (Ind), councillors unanimously agreed to write to the Minister for Transport to demand he pass the necessary legislation to enable the Council to do this.

The Mayor said residents were “sick, sore and tired” of people parking where they wanted when they visited the city and said despite a desire to introduce this measure going back almost 20 years, the Council was hamstrung by national legislation that prevented them from proceeding.

This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Planners approve homes for ‘cuckoo fund’ investor

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – The green light has been given for the construction of 345 apartments at the Crown Square site in Mervue – the majority of which will be put on the rental market and operated by a ‘cuckoo fund’ for a minimum of fifteen years.

Crown Square Developments, which is owned by developer Padraic Rhatigan, has secured permission from An Bord Pleanála for the ‘Build to Rent’ development, with four blocks ranging ranging from four to nine storeys in height.

There will also be a neighbourhood facility with a gym, a primary care medical centre with pharmacy, a ‘working from home’ lounge, six shops, a games room and a creche.

There will be 240 two-bed apartments, 86 one-beds and 19 three-beds, all of which will be specifically for the rental market and not available to purchase.

A breakdown of the apartments shows there will be 240 two-beds; 86 one-beds and 19 three-beds.

To meet social housing requirements, the developer plans to transfer 35 of the apartments (20 two-bed, 10 one-bed and 5 three-bed) to Galway City Council.

A total of 138 car-parking spaces have been allocated on the lower basement levels of Crown Square for residents, along with shared access to another 109 spaces and another 13 for use by a ‘car club’. There will be 796 secure bicycle parking spaces to serve the apartments.

The Board has ordered that the apartments can only be used as long-term rentals, and none can be used for short-term lettings.

Under ‘Build to Rent’ guidelines, the development must be owned and operated by an institutional entity for a minimum period of 15 years and “where no individual residential units shall be sold separately for that period”. The 15-year period starts from the date of occupation of the first residential unit.

This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

 

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CITY TRIBUNE

Councillors divided over vote on Salthill Prom cycleway

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – A proposal to install a temporary two-way cycle lane along Salthill Promenade hangs in the balance, with city councillors split ahead of a vote next week.

On Monday night, the 18 city councillors will discuss Mayor Colette Connolly’s motion that the lane be installed on the coastal side of the road from Blackrock to a point opposite Galway Business School.

A poll of the councillors carried out by the Galway City Tribune yesterday found nine in favour of the proposal, with one indicating they will abstain. A simple majority is required and if there is a 9-9 split, the Mayor holds a ‘casting’ vote, effectively a second vote.

There has been a flurry of lobbying by cycling campaigners urging councillors to vote in favour, as well as some complaints from residents worried it will again impinge on their parking as visitors to Salthill seek somewhere to park up while they swim or walk along the most utilised resource the city has.

During lockdown, Gardaí removed parking on the Prom to deter people from gathering in a public space. This resulted in motorists blocking driveways and entering private estates, leading one estate off Threadneedle Road to hire a private clamping company.

Mayor Colette Connolly (Ind) believes there are a maximum of 250 spaces that would be lost to the project on one side of the road as currently proposed, including seven disabled spaces, which could be reassigned close by.

This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read extensive coverage of the issue and to see how each councillor intends to vote, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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