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An article from the Leinster Leader of 7th May 1938 recording a fire which swept over thousands of acres of bogland in the County.

Leinster Leader
07/05/1938
A Terrific Fire
Co. Kildare Boglands in Flames
Turf Workers Dash to Safety
 
              Hundreds of pounds worth of damage was done, when on Monday evening, a fire involving some thousands of acres of bog swept over the townlands of Downings and Allenwood, in the Robertstown area.
Large quantities of turf saved during the recent long dry spell of weather were burned to ashes, as well as turf cutting instruments and bog barrows. Game of all sorts perished in the huge conflagration which swept, tornado-like over miles of territory.
Guards under Chief Supt. Murphy and Supt. Casserly co-operated with civilians in an endeavour to save three houses situated in the path of the fire, and Guard Kane, of the Divisional Office, had a very narrow escape in this connection.
It appears that while engaged near some property he was enveloped in flames owing to a sudden change in the wind. Blinded by smoke and dust he found himself in a most perilous position, but happily, with great presence of mind, he threw himself face downwards into a ditch until the fire had passed over.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, the fire was still raging, but with diminished fury, and turf owners were kept busily occupied trying to protect their ricks.
The fire originated in a lighted match being thrown accidentally amidst a number of parched gorse bushes.
 
Fearsome Spectacle
Not for fifty years, our representative was informed have people earning their living from the peat industry, witnessed a bog fire of such colossal dimensions. There was a very high wind blowing at the time and from the moment the gorse bushes took fire it spread with amazing rapidity. In the course of half an hour, there was a raging sea of fire, stretching almost in a five miles frontage, along towards Robertstown, as far as the eye could see.
Peat workers, suddenly confronted with the approaching conflagration, ran, terror-stricken for their lives, chased by roaring flames, which at some points, where accumulations of turf lay, darted up into the air to an altitude of thirty feet.
An eye-witness, who viewed the scene from a slight eminence with field glasses described it as the most fearsome spectacle he had ever seen. Like lava tearing down the hillsides from an erupting volcano, the fire dashed forward from ridge to ridge, consuming everything in its way and leaving behind a mass of blackened earth and ashes.
Small plantations dividing the bog from patches of arable land, representing the labour of a life-time, were swallowed up in the flames, as were numerous turf bridges of the type constructed by the Land Commission, turf cutting instruments, bog barrows and carts.
Owners of turf ricks, robbed of the fruits of months of labour, were very distressed over the disastrous occurrence, and many of them informed our representative that their prospects of livelihood for the next three months or more has been bound up in the turf destroyed.
Nearly all the families affected live solely from the sale of turf, which they cart regularly to the Dublin Markets. They had taken advantage of the long dry spell of weather to save large quantities, and the turf destroyed was just ready for marketing in the coming months.
Guards, under Chief Superintendent Murphy and Supt. Casserly were prompt on the scene and worked like Trojans to save a few houses, their efforts proving very successful. Of course, not even an Army Corps could curb the spread of the fire. The parched condition of the gorse, fern and turf banks required only the slightest ignition and the heavy wind sweeping across the bog from Downings did the rest.
Civilians co-operated with the Guards in preventing damage to property, but in many cases, carts and turf-cutting tools had to be abandoned by the owners, some of whom had to run for their lives to escape the oncoming torrent of fire.
Another factor which militated against effective work was the blinding smoke and turf dust which filled the air for miles around, rendering all movement along the trench-cut bog very perilous.
Guard Kane’s predicament, when trapped by the flames, caused grave apprehension for some time, as his comrades were unable to get near him.
On Tuesday and Wednesday the bog was still smouldering and burning fiercely in some parts, and our representative was informed that there is little hope of the fire being completely extinguished until there is a heavy downfall of rain.
One of the first to visit the scene of the occurrence after the news had reached him was Mr. T. Harris, T. D. Mr Harris informs us that he takes a very serious view of the losses which have occurred as a result of the fire and which, he believes will cause considerable distress in the area.
The families affected are-James Reddy, P. Reddy, P. Dempsey, J. Behan, Messrs. Hannon, Devine, Ward, Curly, Byrne, Dunne, Mc Hugh, Condrons, etc. etc.
The police state that the fire started through the accidental throwing of a lighted match in some gorse by a youth named Delaney.
 
A fire that caused thousands of pounds damage broke out on Wednesday in Rathconnell Bog, six miles from Athy. It started in a little wood by the roadside and quickly ate its way through the dry grass, heather and furze into the heart of the bog. Fanned by a strong wind that blew across the bog from the direction in which the fire broke out, the flames during the day leapt 20ft into the air, and great columns of smoke from the sizzling mass could be seen miles away.
By Wednesday afternoon the fire had extended over a tract of bog four miles long and one and a half miles wide. Two woods known as Small Derry and Big Derry, containing in all about 14 acres of Deal, Fir, Spruce and Larch trees were destroyed, and hundreds of tons of cut turf were burned. Fortunately there were no houses in the path of the fire.
Scores of pheasants, partridge and grouse perished in the flames. Game on this tract of bog was regarded as being the most plentiful for a number of years.
Late on Wednesday afternoon the fire reached Cloney Bog and traffic on the Monasterevan-Athy road a half mile away found the dazzling sunshine cut off from the road by a dense cloud of smoke.
The fire burned fiercely throughout Wednesday night and tongues of flame illuminated the sky. People from surrounding districts were attracted to the scene by the spectacle.
By mid-day on Tuesday, some hours after the wind had abated, the fire died down to smouldering patches here and there across the vast expanse of bog. It is believed, however, that the fire will smoulder for weeks if there is no rain, and it is feared the wind may fan the smouldering heather and turf to life and cause another fierce outbreak.
The fire was discovered on Wednesday morning about 5.30 by Mr. Thomas Behan of Booleigh and had then caught hold. He summoned Mr. Hanlon of Rathconnell, to the scene, and together they tried to check the flames, but without the slightest avail.
This is the third open-air fire that occurred in South Kildare recently. A fortnight ago a Kildare County Council plantation at Dollardstown, Castledermot, and a wood at Ardmore, Athy, caught fire.

 
Leinster Leader
14/05/1938
 
Bog Fires Again
Fresh outbreaks of fire occurred in the Robertstown and Allen areas on Wednesday and Wednesday night, amongst the peat heather. The slight rain that fell during the night and morning helped to prevent the fire spreading, whilst also giving a certain amount of relief to the parched countryside.
 

The tale of a terrible fire which swept across Downings and Allenwood in the Summer of 1938.

[Compiled by Mario Corrigan; typed and edited by Niamh Mc Cabe]


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