Tuesday was the 80th anniversary of the Dromcollogher, Co. Limerick Cinema disaster, where 48 men women and children lost their lives
It was your typical rural Irish village of the 1920s, everyone knew each other, and the big city media would not have paid much attention to the daily events there. They wouldn't have been considered important enough.
But all that changed on Sunday, September 5, 1926 in the west Limerick village of Dromcologher.
The day started like every other Sunday in the town with it's residents readying themselves for Sunday Mass at the local church.
A hundred or so yards away from the church, at a local hardware store, Patrick Downing, a movie projector operator, had travelled up from Cork to meet local hackney driver, William "Baby" Forde, to partake in a little scheme to make a few pound between them.
Forde had hired the upstairs loft of the hardware store from Patrick Brennan, where they had planned to set up a temporary cinema. Two trial runs at the location were a success, and this was going to be the first time that they would charge an admission fee to see the showing.
Forde had realised that there were no movie showings in Cork on a Sunday, so he and Downing hatched a plan to bring films from the Assembly Rooms Theatre on Sunday morning, and have them back in Cork again by Monday morning. That way the theatre owners in Cork would be none-the-wiser about the fact that their film reels had been missing on the Sunday.
To show films privately was against the law, so to hide the fact that he was doing this, Downing took the movie reels out of their protective metal cases and placed them in a Gladstone bag for transport to Dromcollogher. The metal cases would still be in Cork, giving the impression that the films were where they were supposed to be.
The projector was set up on a table infront of the only exit to the loft and the reels were placed beside it. There were also two candles placed on the table to give light to them while they checked both the money people were going to be paying and to read the reels as they were being loaded into the projector to be shown. The candles were not placed in holders, but they were held in place by hardened candle wax. The showing was scheduled to begin at 2100 hrs so as to allow people to attend Benediction at the church.
Locals then made their way from the church to the hardware store and climbed the rickety outside stairs to the loft and take their places in time for the screening. It was not long before there were two hundred people packed into the tiny room.
The first of the two films, a short movie called, "The Decoy," was shown without incident. By this time, one of the two candles on the table had burnt out. One candle remained alight.
Things turned for the worst after the second film "The False Alarm" began.
There are many different suggestions as to how the remaining candle was knocked over. Some say that young boys in the room were throwing their caps at it in an effort to extinguish it, in the hopes that they could make off with the takings without being seen, however this story has not been confirmed. What is known is that the candle did fall over onto a reel of naked film which exploded into flames. A former Brittish Army officer and local Garda, Sergent Long was reported to have noticed this and got up to kick the film off the table, but another man got to it first and started using his cap to beat the flames, fanning them and causing the table and the film to be engulfed in fire. A panic ensued and Sergent Long was carried out of the room by the fleeing crowd.
Another Garda, Gda Davis, who was also present, tried to demonstrate to the others that if they jumped through the flames, they would be able to escape. Many people followed his advice and escaped through the entrance. However, many people felt safer going to the opposite end of the loft to the fire.
At this end of the loft, there were two windows, which were barred. But because the loft had previously been used for clandestine IRA meetings during the War of Independence, one of the windows had the bars partially cut to facilitate a speedy escape in the event of an RIC raid.
One former IRA member, John Gleeson knew this and broke the bars allowing more people to escape. But with the heat, the remaining bars began to expand and one woman was jammed between them, cutting off this escape route.
Not long after this, the loft floor collapsed onto the hardware store room, which contained things like wood, glass and five gallon tanks of petrol.
August 1926 had been a dry month in the region. The two wells in the town were dry and the level of water in the nearby river was insufficient to help those trying to put the fire out. The nearest fire brigade was in Limerick.
The building was completely englulfed within a half an hour of the fire starting, and it was all over within an hour. By this time 46 people had died. Two more were to die later in hospital from their injuries. Only 21 of those who died were identifiable, and the only way to know the identies of the other 27 was to find out who did not come home that night. Of the 20 children present, 15 lost their lives. Half of the people who had perished were below the age of 25.
Gardai came from Newcastle West and sealed off the area. The army were also called in to help coffin the dead. So many were dead that they hadn't enough coffins. Special permission was sought, and granted to bury the dead in a mass grave on the grounds of the Church. All but one of the victims are buried there
"The Burning" as it became to be known, was rarely spoken of in the area by the people of Dromcolloghar.
The three men at the centre of the whole affair, those being Brennan, Downing and Forde, were all charged with manslaughter at the Central Criminal Court, but were acquitted. Forde later emigrated to Austrailia where he was reported to have died after he replaced flour with stricnine when baking bread during a rabbit hunting trip.
The tradgedy made international news, however some articles were not as kind to the people of Dromcolloghar as they should have been, notably this one from the September 20 1926 edition of US magazine, TIME: