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The night Kirkintilloch burned – 75 years since fire horror

Eastside bothy fire - September 1937

Eastside bothy fire - September 1937

A TERRIBLE tragedy which claimed 10 young lives in Kirkintilloch will never be forgotten.

That was the message this week after the 75th anniversary of a horrific fire in Eastside.

Ten young Irish workers aged between 13 and 23 died when fire ripped through their bothy on September 16, 1937.

The blaze was so savage that it took rescuers two hours before they could even enter the gutted building.

Ten young potato pickers, all from Achill Island, County Mayo, Ireland, lost their lives.

The young victims had all been in the employment of W. & A. Graham, the Glasgow potato merchants, who were also owners of the premises.

The cause of the fire has never been properly explained.

What is clear is that the blaze broke out at around 1am on September 16, 1937.

A fatal accident inquiry found the 10 victims were overcome by carbon monoxide fumes while they slept, before the fire started.

By the time police and firefighters managed to get into the shell, the roof had collapsed.

A searchlight was set up and spades and forks used to sift through the wreckage.

Eventually, as dawn was breaking over the tragic scene, the 10 bodies were found and taken to the recently-opened police station in Townhead.

At about 7pm on Friday, September 17, the 10 coffins were taken to Holy Family and St Ninian’s Church in Union Street. Crowds of all denominations and none lined the streets to watch the slow progress of the hearses.

The community was united in grief.

It had originally been intended to bury the bodies in the Old Aisle Cemetery, Kirkintilloch, but this plan was quickly altered when a poignant telegram from Ireland bearing the words Beir Abhaile Ar Marbh – Bring Home Our Dead – reached Kirkintilloch.

After the Saturday morning mass at St Ninian’s on September 18, the coffins were dispatched on their long journey to Achill. Relatives of the dead walked behind the hearses from St Ninian’s as far as the Kirkintilloch Burgh boundary.

Kirkintilloch Town Council agreed to open a public subscription fund for the survivors. Many well-known locals gave substantial amounts, including Benny Lynch, the world champion boxer. A door-to-door collection took place in Kirkintilloch, Croy, Twechar, Lennoxtown and Torrance.

The directors of Celtic FC contributed and there was a collection at Celtic Park.

In 2007, to mark the 70th anniversary, a plaque was unveiled in Eastside.

East Dunbartonshire MP Jo Swinson said: “The tragedy that took place in Kirkintilloch 75 years ago will always be remembered with sadness and grief by the families on Achill Island and here in our community.

“These senseless deaths highlighted the plight of the island’s young migrant workers who came here each year for the potato-picking harvest to provide for the families back home.”

Councillor Rhondda Geekie, leader of East Dunbartonshire Council, said: “This terrible tragedy will never be forgotten by the people of Kirkintilloch and Achill.”

Gregg McClymont, MP for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, said: “This terrible tragedy remains a dark memory in the minds of the people from not only Achill Island, but also Kirkintilloch and the surrounding villages, despite the passage of 75 years.

“The circumstances in which the 10 young Irish men who died were taken from their families was particularly heartbreaking and my thoughts are with the relatives of the victims.”

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