Limerick Chronicle files: The tragic consequences of collapsing houses

Sharon Slater, Limerick Chronicle Historian

Reporter:

Sharon Slater, Limerick Chronicle Historian

The city was falling apart: Collapsing houses were not restricted to the Irishtown area of the city. In October 1964, a house collapsed on Little William Street

The city was falling apart: Collapsing houses were not restricted to the Irishtown area of the city. In October 1964, a house collapsed on Little William Street

Tragedy was to strike James McNamara and his wife Mary Kerley of 12 John Street in Limerick three times in a year and a half, firstly with the passing of their son John, aged one year, in September 1898, their daughter Christina, aged eighteen years in February 1899 and their son Denis, aged three months, in February 1900.

The McNamaras had a total of twelve children and their remaining children all survived to adulthood.

In February 18, 1899, their daughter Christina, had left her home and was walking along Broad Street, shortly after eight o’clock, on her way to St Mary’s Chapel, Athlunkard Street.

She had just passed some boys and Acting Sergeant Doherty who was getting the boys to move. Suddenly, a loud crashing sound jolted all of those in the street. Doherty turned suddenly to see a cloud of dust rising from the footpath.

The upper part of a three-storey house belonging to a Mary Griffin had collapsed into the street on to Christina and the three boys. All were quickly moved to Barrington’s Hospital where Christina passed away the following morning.

The house was a thought to be a few hundred years old at the time. The occupier was a Mr Shine, who stated that Miss Griffin had kept the house in reasonable order. She had replaced the rafters thirteen years prior. His only complaint was that there was a leak in the roof.

It was stated during Christina’s inquest that “in view of the danger to lives of residents and the public generally having business in John street, Mungret street and Broad street and the old town generally, we beg to call attention to owners of property and other responsible officials of the insecure state of the same and their dilapidated condition in said area”

This was not to be the last building to collapse on Broad Street, on January 14, 1907, two houses were condemned and during the process of clearing the properties they both collapsed. The report of December 20, 1906, had proposed that the “flank should be shored up at once and iron tie rods put through Nos 1, 3 and 3, Broad Street, to keep the whole three together. The end gable of [Number 1] is in a most dangerous condition and may collapse any moment on O’Connell’s house Lock Quay. This should be taken down at once to the first floor and rebuilt.” No one was injured in this incident as a Mr Franklin who was working on the building at the time, felt a vibration in the roof moments before the collapse and left the building.

In 1950, the backs of numbers 12 and 13 Broad Street separated from the buildings. Once again, children were caught under the rubble.

At 6.30 in the morning of February 1, 1950, the Madden family began their day when Mr Madden spotted the chimney-piece cracked in two. Both parents quickly grabbed their youngest children. In the floor below, John O’Connell saw a crack appear in his ceiling. Suddenly Mr Madden fell through the ceiling clutching one of his children.

Two more of the Madden children continued to fall through the building reaching the basement where they were covered in rubble. The children were located by the fire brigade and removed to the City Home. Luckily, neither child was severely injured and one left the hospital that same day.

Around the corner on Mungret Street, another three houses collapsed on August 27, 1963. The Leader the following day recorded that “at 6.30 o’clock last evening enveloped a large area in a cloud of dust and brought hundreds of anxious parents to the scene looking for their children… so sudden was the collapse that many people thought a bomb had exploded”. Luckily, no one was injured in this accident.

It does show the state of the housing stock throughout the city. It is a poignant reminder of how buildings can fall into disrepair and collapse if they are not maintained.