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50 years on: the day that Galway burned



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’.


Fallout over pitches plan in neighbouring GAA clubs’ heartlands



From the Galway City Tribune – The GAA family in Galway City was hurtling towards a civil war-style fallout over plans by one club to develop pitches in neighbouring clubs’ heartlands.

Salthill Knocknacarra GAA’s announcement last week that it intended to apply for permission to develop new pitches and clubhouse at its site in Mincloon, Rahoon provoked an immediate backlash from Rahoon/Newcastle and St Michael’s GAA Clubs.

CLG Bearna also added its weight to the opposition to the plans.

SKGAA insisted again this week the new facilities were desperately needed to satisfy growth in membership over the past decade, particularly among girls, ladies football and camogie.

A spokesperson said it had exhausted all other options to develop pitches within its parish, including at three schools, but failed and had decided to proceed with the Mincloon proposals. It insisted it is not breaching any ‘parish’ rules.

But both St Michael’s and Rahoon/Newcastle vowed to robustly defend their ‘patch’.

Rahoon/Newcastle, which fields hurling and camogie teams, declared it would be “strongly opposing” the proposal.

Officials from the club met the development committee of SKGAA last Thursday night, and afterwards issued a statement expressing “huge disappointment and dismay”.

“We will fight for our club and for our community,” the 134-year-old club’s statement said.

“We will be strongly opposing this proposal which would see Salthill Knocknacarra move 3km from their club in the Prairie to within just 500m of our club in Tonabrocky.

“This violates parish boundaries and the spirit of the GAA whose ethos is to promote Gaelic games and culture as a community based, volunteer led organisation which enriches lives and communities,” Rahoon/Newcastle said.

SKGAA denied the move to Rahoon violates any GAA rule.

This article first appeared in the print edition of the Galway City Tribune. You can support our journalism by subscribing to the Galway City Tribune HERE. A one-year digital subscription costs just €89.00. The print edition is in shops every Friday.

A spokesperson on Wednesday pointed to Dublin and Cork cities, where clubs share facilities or use pitches outside of their catchment due to shortages of recreational and amenity land.

“Under Galway GAA bylaws, there are no parish boundaries in the city. So in the same way Rahoon are doing nothing wrong going into Knocknacarra schools, we’re doing nothing wrong developing this land,” the spokesperson said.

St Michael’s, which traditionally fielded players from Shantalla, Claddagh, and ‘The West’, and in recent years pulled from Bushypark, Newcastle, and Westside, is opposed to the plans.

Delegations from both clubs met last week, and afterwards St Michael’s vowed to “strongly oppose this development”.

It said it was “naïve” to claim it does not violate the spirit of the GAA ethos of respecting parish catchments.

“In a city, there is always a certain element of members playing with clubs while living outside the immediate catchment area – we are all familiar with that – but building this new state-of-the art facility within the catchment area of St. Michael’s and Rahoon/Newcastle, flying the SKGAA flag, is nothing short of a threat to the future of our club,” St. Michael’s said.

The club’s executive said it agreed the city needs more sports infrastructure.

“But not as a facility controlled by one dominant GAA club – to truly promote GAA sport in an equitable, competitive manner it needs to be shared by several GAA clubs.

“A new, improved, shared facility would level the playing field for all. St Michael’s would welcome meaningful discussion with Galway GAA County Board, Galway City Council and all city GAA clubs. Together we could understand everyone’s position and see how a shared facility of this nature could come to life for the equitable development of all,” it said.

A spokesperson for SKGAA said it wants a strong St. Michael’s club, in order for Gaelic football in Galway to flourish. Slots would be made available at the pitches for other clubs and schools. He pointed out that 70% of City Council pitches were for soccer, yet GAA had far greater membership than soccer clubs.

Chairman of SKGAA, Paddy Lynch said his club fielded 64 teams last year, and had launched a nursery section for children aged four to six, which was “hugely popular”.

“This growth has resulted in the club facilities being seriously overwhelmed. The development of new playing facilities is critical to the future of our club and continuing to provide the most opportunity to play sport to the young people of our communities,” Mr Lynch said.

In an updated statement issued Tuesday, SKGAA said it was “disappointed” with the stance taken by Rahoon/Newcastle, and urged them to reconsider its “most unfair” position.

“In recent years, Rahoon/Newcastle has been active and present in the local schools of Knocknacarra which would clearly be considered our ‘traditional’ parish area.

“We have never raised objections to their club being active in our traditional area and recruiting members outside their traditional area because it is our sincere belief that all our children should be provided with the greatest number of options possible to access sport,” it said.

A spokesperson for Rahoon/Newcastle, told the Galway City Tribune, the application caught his club members off guard.

He said there was “disappointment” SKGAA publicly launched its pitch website last Thursday, prior to briefing Rahoon/Newcastle.

“We’re very open and transparent in our dealings with other clubs, and we show a lot of respect towards other clubs, and support them. We’ve always worked with clubs in the locality, be it amalgamating teams at different times when we were both struggling, or supporting fundraising events, or helping out in different aspects when challenges come to different doorsteps be it grievances or death, and we’re disappointed this has come to the level it has come to without proper discussion before submitting anything,” the spokesperson said.

He said the issue affects three clubs, and residents of Clybaun, Rahoon and Mincloon; and ultimately it will be decided by planning experts. He said there should be “proper discussion” at executive level between clubs, and the GAA rather than in public forums.

On Wednesday, CLG Bhearna confirmed its opposition.

Following a meeting of Barna GAA’s executive Tuesday, its statement said it had similar difficulty securing and developing land, “but have done so and will continue to do so, within the local catchment areas in accordance with the GAA values and ethos”.

CLG Bhearna said these plans infringed its catchment area.

“Specifically, one of the three primary schools in our parish, Boleybeg National School which is an integral part of the Bearna/Na Forbacha parish, is located bedside the proposed new facility for SKGAA.

“We have recently appointed a full-time coaching development officer to work with our three parish schools in Na Forbacha, Bearna and Bolybeg . . . to promote GAA games and offer children the opportunity to experience and enjoy sport with their friends and community in their local GAA club,” it said.

CLG Bhearna said the proposed facility will likely have an adverse impact on its future player base.

In response, SKGAA said it respected the position of other clubs.

Galway GAA was contacted for comment.

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Five-month waiting time for NCT in Galway City



From the Galway City Tribune – The Road Safety Authority (RSA) has insisted the average waiting time for an NCT test in Galway is below the national average – even though local motorists have complained they cannot get a booking until August.

In a parliamentary reply to Galway West TD Noel Grealish, the RSA said that last week, the average wait time at the Galway NCT centre was 21 days – below the national average.

But motorists trying to book appointments have complained that the earliest date available was five months away.

“The figures are not reliable in my opinion. They say that the wait time for Galway is 21 days, shorter than the national average, but if you try to make a booking online, the next available slot in Galway is August 28. It’s the same for NCT centres in County Galway. The next available slots are months away,” one motorist told the Galway City Tribune.

According to the figures supplied to Deputy Grealish, the wait times in Ballinasloe and Clifden are 20 days, and it is 18 days in Tuam.

But online, the earliest slots available for Ballinasloe, Tuam and Clifden are September 22, August 22 and July 25 respectively.

The Irish Times reported earlier this year that thousands of motorists may be entitled to free tests because of the failure of the National Car Testing Service (NCTS) to provide appointments within 28 days.

This article first appeared in the print edition of the Galway City Tribune. You can support our journalism by subscribing to the Galway City Tribune HERE. A one-year digital subscription costs just €89.00. The print edition is in shops every Friday.

Brendan Walsh, Chief Operations Officer at NCTS, told Deputy Grealish that the past year had been “especially challenging” due to the impact of Covid-19 “which caused significant staff absenteeism levels at test centres and in the call centre”.

“The first half of the year is always the busiest period for the NCTS as the NCT is due on the anniversary of the vehicle’s registration date and most registrations occur at the start of the year. With the delay in the availability of new cars, there are more older cars in the fleet, resulting in circa 1.5m cars to be tested at NCT in 2023. These multiple factors have caused a build-up of demand and have constrained capacity, as NCTS has been unable to carry out as many tests as planned,” Mr Walsh said.

He said that the average wait time nationally was 25 days, and Galway was below this.

“If a customer requires an appointment sooner than those available online, the system has the ability to allow customers place themselves on the priority list online. Customers may also be put on the priority list through the NCTS call centre, if a suitable slot is not available. Regrettably there is a longer delay than would have been in the past but the vast majority of customers on the priority list will get an appointment in four weeks.

“The available appointments that customers see online only represent approximately one third of the actual appointments available for that time. NCTS will open the remaining two thirds of appointments three weeks ahead when they finalise their schedules and have confirmed staff availability that week,” he said.

Mr Walsh added that Insurance Ireland confirmed its members will be “pragmatic and understanding”, and will “continue to be provided where customers, through no fault of their own, are unable to obtain their NCT due to backlogs at test centres”.

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‘Temporary’ Spanish Arch aquadam in place until at least next month



From the Galway City Tribune – The ‘temporary’ flood prevention barrier at Spanish Arch will remain in place until April at least, Galway City Council has said.

Cllr Councillor Niall McNelis (Lab) said the Council last week confirmed it would not be removed before the St Patrick’s Weekend and said it was likely to be after Easter before the equipment is put back into storage until next winter.

The Council said that the Transport (Operations) Directorate in City Hall “intend to remove the temporary flood barrier at Spanish Arch during April as in previous years”.

It’s understood there is a significant cost in installing the barrier.

Rather than incur that cost regularly during storm events, the Council in recent years has chosen to leave it in place continuously during the months when high tides are expected and the flood risk is greater.

Cllr McNelis said he had been contacted by locals and tour guides querying when the orange temporary flood barrier would be removed this year.

In an email to the Council, he pointed out that the bins at Spanish Arch are inaccessible, as they are located behind the boom and metal fencing that surrounds it.

With an influx of people due in Galway this bank holiday weekend, Cllr McNelis said: “We need to have bins in place.”

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