DCSIMG

The night 10 young lives were lost...

IT was the early hours of just another Thursday morning – but instead of darkness, Eastside was bathed in a terrible orange glow.

The fire which consumed the bothy in Kirkintilloch – claiming 10 young lives – 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 when the blaze broke out in their living accommodation.

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 – aged between 10 and 23 – 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.

About 7pm on Friday, Sep. 17, the 10 coffins were taken to St Ninian's Church in Union Street.

Crowds of all denominations and none lined the streets to watch the slow progress of the motor hearses.

The community was united in grief.

Inside the church prayers for the dead were read by Canon Jansen, the Kirkintilloch parish priest, and during the course of the evening Mr J.W. Dulanty, Irish Free State High Commissioner in London, arrived.

He was accompanied by Mr P.J. Ruttledge, Minister of Justice and Achill representative on the Dail.

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 immediately 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, where special buses were provided to take them to the Broomielaw, Glasgow.

There were emotional scenes as the 10 coffins were carried on board the Burns and Laird vessel Lairdsburn and laid on an upper deck. Survivors of the tragedy and friends and relatives of the victims came on board, many weeping bitterly.

After an overnight voyage the Lairdsburn reached Dublin and came slowly up the Liffey, her flag at half-mast, watched by an estimated 6,000 people on the quayside.

On September 20 the coffins were transported across Achill Island, each one on the roof of a motor car, and were buried in a mass grave at Kildownet Cemetery in the south of the island.

At a meeting of Kirkintilloch Burgh Housing Committee on the evening of September 16 it was agreed to open a public subscription fund for the survivors and 25 was contributed as a 'starter' donation.

Many well-known local people soon gave substantial amounts of money, including Benny Lynch, the world champion boxer, who was training at Campsie at the time.

A door-to-door collection was also begun and had raised 184 by September 19 in Kirkintilloch, Croy, Twechar, Lennoxtown and Torrance.

Contributions to the victims were by no means limited to the local area and came from all over Scotland and Ireland.

The directors of Celtic Football Club, for example, gave 100 guineas, and as a separate initiative the sum of 116 5s 5d was raised in a collection at Celtic Park.

The final total was said to be 18,233.

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

* All ten of the victims of the Kirkintilloch Bothy Fire came from Achill Island and many of the victims and survivors were related to each other. Among the girls who survived, Mary Mangan lost three brothers (John, Thomas and Michael), Kate Kilbane lost two (Patrick and Thomas), as did Bridget McLoughlin (John and Martin). Kitty Cattigan lost one (Thomas).

* The bothy had been built as recently as 1932, apparently within the stone shell of an earlier building. Adjacent was a cottage where 14 women workers and also the squad foreman, Patrick Duggan, and his son lived.

* The cause of the fire was never found. In 1982 the accident investigation was reopened after an old lady claimed her estranged husband had some time previously confessed to her that he had been responsible for starting the fire. There was a great deal of revived interest, but the Crown Office came to the conclusion there was insufficient evidence for a prosecution.

 
 
 

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