Ceremony to mark 70th anniversary of bothy fire disaster

A COMMEMORATIVE plaque and new exhibition will be unveiled this week to mark the 70th anniversary of a devastating tragedy that claimed the lives of 10 young Irish workers.

Aged between 13 and 23, the workers died when fire ripped through their bothy in Eastside, Kirkintilloch.

They had come to Scotland from Achill, the largest island off the Irish coast, to lift potatoes for the Glasgow-based company W & A Graham Ltd.

Back then, potato pickers would work in Scotland between June and October, earning around 20 per season, which they would take back to their families.

To this day, there is still speculation as to how the fire started.

Don Martin, assistant manager of information and archives at William Patrick Library, explained: "There is an element of mystery about how the fire broke out with such intensity. The fatal accident inquiry found they had died of carbon monoxide poisoning from fumes before the blaze started.

"The fumes apparently came from a stove, overloaded with coal, after the vent became blocked. They were all found lying in their sleeping positions."

The case was reopened in 1982 for a short time when an elderly woman claimed her husband had started the fire.

The tragedy hit the communities in both Ireland and Kirkintilloch hard, none more so than the women migrants living in the cottage next door, one of whom lost three brothers in the blaze that night.

After the disaster, the people of Kirkintilloch joined together, abandoning issues of nationality and religion, to support the survivors.

A memorial mass was held in Holy Family and St Ninian's Parish Church and Kirkintilloch Town Council started a relief fund.

One of those to donate to the fund was the father of local artist Willie Rodger, who has now designed a new plaque to be displayed near the location of the tragedy.

The plaque will be unveiled at a ceremony in Eastside, this Saturday, at 4pm. The ceremony will be followed by the official opening of a new exhibition.

In November the exhibition will go on tour in Ireland and Scotland. It will also feature at next year's Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow, before returning to Kirkintilloch.

When it was decided to hold an exhibition to mark the 70th anniversary the choice of designer was made easy, when it was discovered that one of the staff of the Auld Kirk Museum, James Higgins, had strong family links to Achill.

Don Martin said: "He's a fantastic designer and it was an amazing coincidence that his family comes from Achill.

"There is still a collective memory in the people of Achill about the Kirkintilloch disaster, because it was such a sad day."

The 'Tubaiste Kirkintilloch' exhibition, consisting of 12 themed banner-style panels, will open to the public on Tuesday, September 18, at William Patrick Library and will run until October 31.