- Going, Going, Down.....
The Carmody's Hotel tragedy occurred 45 years ago this
Wednesday. On January 15th, 1958, part of the famous hotel
crumbled into dust. Joe Ó Muircheartaighs combing
of the archives tells the tale of that day while the uncovering
of a famous letter links Carmodys Hotel with the beginning
of the end of Charles Stewart Parnell.
A cold crisp January afternoon. An end of the era in ways,
the hammer was going down on the contents of old Carmodys
Hotel. Day one of a three-day auction. It wasnt the
only thing that went down.
Carmodys - the haven for politicians, though its
probably more appropriate to describe them as political
giants. Thats what they were - OConnell, Parnell,
The OGorman Mahon and de Valera.
They were regular patrons of the place- people still speak
of deVs days there. Days when the crowds would flock
down from OConnell Square after deV, standing outside
and waiting patiently for him to re-appear.
Then hed appear on an upstairs balcony and greet his
hoards of supporters again. No doubt the same routine was
played out in the days of OConnell, Parnell and The
The three storey hotel with a storied history going back
to 1804. A history that came crashing down on January 15th
1958. The day described by As If Night Fell,
the title of an acclaimed radio documentary on the tragedy
produced a few years back by local journalist Gerry Quinn.
Night fell in the middle of the afternoon. Crowds converged
on Carmodys for the auction in the Sarsfield Room
on the second floor. Limerick auctioneer Louis de Courcy
was standing on a chair with microphone in hand, calling
his next lot.
It was a lot of lined and he made the call, chaos called.
It was 2.35pm. The floor of the Sarsfield Room just gave
way under the weight of the people. The Sarsfield Room was
going, going, gone.
Chaos had called on Carmodys as people in the Sarsfield
Room plummeted into the Commercial Room fourteen feet below
them. The place was described as, a seething mass
of humanity and debris.
Within minutes of this tragedy, Gardai, firemen, ambulance
men and other rushed to the scene. Local clergymen, including
the Bishop of Killaloe, Dr Rodgers, gave conditional absolution
to those trapped and administered the Last Rites as the
bodies were removed.
Among those who rushed to scene to help out was Betty Corbett.
She sprinted from across the road in the Queens Hotel. She
had just been married and was enjoying her reception. Most
of the wedding guests were in tow.
We had only just started, the songs were going on
- the usual thing. My mother was there - shed been
out at the front of the hotel and she arrived in and said:theres
someone hurt outside. He was the boy of the
Caseys, I think he was Frank. he was just coming in the
door and was all covered in blood. I said: good heavens,
what happened you. he said: theres been
an accident across the way in the hotel, there are a lot
of people injured.
Dr Bugler was called and we were trying to sort out
the dead people from the injured. We did the best we could.
I was in the wedding dress and there was a young boy and
his leg was in a very bad state- it was all crushed up.
I said you must be in great pain and he said
never mind, youll destroy your dress,
Local hauler, Frank Casey described what happened. I
felt the sag and then heard a kind of cracking noise. I
pushed my wife out to two men who were standing in the hall
way and then grabbed my three-year-old daughter Marion,
and was lucky to save her, he told journalists at
Before I could get out myself the floor went and I
grabbed a beam. I could see nothing with the dust, but I
managed to get through a window which I broke and climbed
down a drain pipe at the side of the hotel.
I then broke the window where the others and and was
joined by people on the street. We got several people out
before I realised I was streaming blood from a cut on my
forehead, added Mr. Casey.
OConnell Street publican, Michael Carr, was another
one of the survivors to tell the tale - a graphic tale of
how the floor fell from under them while bidding was at
I was standing near the auctioneer in order to get
a good hearing. The auctioneer put up two pairs of pillow
slips, struck the hammer and knocked them down for six shillings
and at that moment there was a crack from the floor by the
wall opposite the auctioneer and beside the door.
said Mr Carr.
The floor began to come away from the door and tilted
towards the auctioneer who was still standing on the chair
holding the hammer in his hand. Then he began to slide down
the floor as if on a raft and fell into the room below.
I went with him. I was dazed and blinded but I climbed up
the tilted floor and escaped out through a window.
Thomas McCarrick also heard the cracking sound before everything
came crashing doen. I felt the floor sagging very
slowly and also heard cracking. Next thing I knew I as on
the ground floor among the debtis. All round I could here
shouting, crying and moans. Those who were in the centre
of the room suffered the most. It was about ten minutes
before the rescuers began to get people out, he said.
Claire Higgins recalls, I was at the auction with
my husband and felt we should leave the room as it was so
crowded but we could not reach the door and had to remain
inside. Suddenly the floor gave and we fell through. It
Louis de Courcy reflected, I had ordered the door
beneath to be locked a short time previously and by that
action I am sure we saved the lives of many of the people.
With him was his son Cyril who recalled his memories of
the tragedy for Gerry Quinn. Suddenly I was buried
under a lot of people and a lot of linen. I didnt
know how I got down there. I thought first - was there a
earthquake or did the building collapse. I never dreamt
that the floor had actually collapsed.
I was buried for a long time underneath and I didnt
realise the extent of the dust until people told me afterwards.
It was when people shouted for help that they opened their
mouth. The dust caused asphyxia.
Two of the porters we had employed were able to move
around the room and they were the only two people who were
able to move around and they went to the window,opened the
window and started clearing from that side. Thar was the
corner where I was.
I went back into the room to help as many people as
I possibly could and escort some them over to the Queens
Hotel. I suppose it took an hour to get everyone out of
The dust had settled and Ennis began to count the cost.
The eight dead and 14 of the 25 injured were removed to
the County Hospital. The local, national and international
had descended on Ennis.
Eight Dead in Ennis Hotel Disaster, screamed
the headline in the Irish Independent. Fifty people
pitched to room below, went the sub-heading. Appaling
Tragedy in Ennis- Eight Killed, Twenty Five Injured,
said the Clare Champion headline. Accident at Irish
Hotel- Victims Trapped, said the Times of London.
The dead were: Ernest de Regge (54), Bindon Street, Ennis;
Thomas Donnellan (13), Bindon Street, Ennis; James Fitzgibbon
(65), Marian Avenue, Ennis; Mrs Bridie Byrne (38), Kilrush;
Mrs Josephine Carmody (50), Barefield; Mrs Norah Condsidine
(60), Corofin; Mrs Michael Coffey (41), Killoo, Clarecastle;
Mrs Ellen McNamara (73), Crusheen.
But the death toll didnt end there - a plane carrying
photographs of the hotel tragedy plunged into the Shannon
Estuary, 300 yards north of Waller Island, shortly after
A famous pilot, we used to call him Monkey
Morgan- he was Captain AC Morgan had come down from Dublin
to take back pictures of the collapse for the Daily Express.
He had a new aircraft - which he had taken delivery
of only a year earlier, recalled journalist Arthur
He jumped into the aircraft and took off. Apparently
in his hurry, he didnt properly close one of the cock-pit
doors. The door opened - and of course it lost its qualities
as flying machine and plunged into the estuary, he
And the death toll could have been more only for the Clare
Champion photographer Denis Wylde. I went into the
Queens Hotel and went to the bar. I was approached by a
photographer. He was working for the Express. He had taken
some pictures and he wanted to bring them to Shannon,
Denis recalled to Gerry Quinn.
I said, I tell you what to do. Stay over night and
youll get a further story in the morning. He
said: OK, III go to Shannon and III give the
slides to MonkeyMorgan and III meet you
in the Old Ground around 10oclock.
About 10.20 he strolled into the Old Ground. He was
as white as a sheet. He said: Monkey took off,
he never got to take up the flaps or the air brakes and
he landed in the mud.
The Express snapper was another one of the lucky ones
from a day that will always be remembered in Ennis. The
day Night Fell.
Courtesy of the Clare Champion