Carmody’s - 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 Muircheartaigh’s combing of the archives tells the tale of that day while the uncovering of a famous letter links Carmody’s 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 Carmody’s Hotel. Day one of a three-day auction. It wasn’t the only thing that went down.

Carmody’s - the haven for politicians, though it’s probably more appropriate to describe them as political giants. That’s what they were - O’Connell, Parnell, The O’Gorman Mahon and de Valera.
They were regular patrons of the place- people still speak of deV’s days there. Days when the crowds would flock down from O’Connell Square after deV, standing outside and waiting patiently for him to re-appear.

Then he’d appear on an upstairs balcony and greet his hoards of supporters again. No doubt the same routine was played out in the days of O’Connell, Parnell and The O’Gorman Mahon.

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 Carmody’s 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 Carmody’s 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 - she’d been out at the front of the hotel and she arrived in and said:’there’s 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: ‘there’s 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, you’ll destroy your dress’,” she recalled.

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 the scene.
“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.
O’Connell 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 its height.

“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.” he added.

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 was terrible.”

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 didn’t 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 didn’t 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 Queen’s Hotel. I suppose it took an hour to get everyone out of the room.”

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 didn’t end there - a plane carrying photographs of the hotel tragedy plunged into the Shannon Estuary, 300 yards north of Waller Island, shortly after take-off.

“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 Quinlan.

“He jumped into the aircraft and took off. Apparently in his hurry, he didn’t 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 added.

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 you’ll get a further story in the morning’. He said: OK, I’II go to Shannon and I’II give the slides to ‘Monkey’Morgan and I’II meet you in the Old Ground around 10o’clock.

“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 one’s from a day that will always be remembered in Ennis. The day ‘Night Fell’.

Courtesy of the Clare Champion
January 2003