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NEWBRIDGE GOES TO BLAZES IN ITS CENTENARY YEAR

Newbridge goes to blazes in its centenary year

The good citizens of Newbridge have in recent weeks been celebrating the bicentenary of the mapping out of their town in the autumn 1812. However they can count themselves fortunate to have an intact town on which to base their celebrations as judging from the dramatic account of a fire in the town centre in October 1912 the town was very nearly reduced to ashes in the year of its first centenary. It took the full resources of the town’s scratch fire-brigade, local residents, and soldiers from the barracks to quench the flames which might easily have raced through the premises in the closely packed side streets of the town. As it was there was a sad equine casualty but beyond that Newbridge was saved to survive intact for at least another hundred years.
The Kildare Observer reported that the fire was discovered in the early hours of a Tuesday morning when a man named Copeland who lived at Lower Eyre Street noticed flames taking hold in extensive premises on the street used by Mr Edward O’Byrne as a dairy, slaughter house and stables. Copeland roused his neighbours in Eyre Street and sent word to the owner, Mr O’Byrne, whose residence was in Henry Street. Then with back-up in the shape of a local lad named Ryan, Copeland went to the rear of the premises where he found the gate open. The fire had taken hold and in breathless prose the Observer reporter wrote that “the structure which was composed mainly of wood, soon became a mass of fire, the galvanized roof catching the full fury of the fiery element.” 
By now help was arriving from all quarters of the town. The list of helpers reads like a “who’s who” of prominent citizens and functionaries in the Newbridge of 1912. From the barracks of the Royal Irish Constabulary came Sergt. Whisker, and Constables Greenaway, McKeown, Kenny and McInerney. They were followed by the township fire brigade in which there was no demarcation between local authority technical staff, administrators and elected members: Denis Quinn, Engineer was joined by Mr. Seawright, the Town Clerk, and by Joseph Kelly, Town Commissioner. But even this combined force struggled to keep the fire at bay. The flames, accelerated by hay stored in on O’Byrne’s premises had by then reached alarming proportions and were soon illuminating the entire neighbourhood with the intense heat and flying sparks a source of imminent danger to anybody in close proximity.
There were fears for the adjoining homes in Eyre Street: the one on the north side was fortunately untenanted as its occupiers, the Misses Dowling, were not in occupation for some time past, but the property to the south comprising a shop and house looked in immediate danger of being gutted. The situation was so serious that the local officials had to call on the sort of manpower that only a military town like Newbridge could mobilise. Sergt O’Hara, of the Connaught Rangers, who resided close-by ran to the military barracks and alerted the barrack fire piquet. Within minutes the military fire brigade reinforced by 150 gunners from the Royal Field and Royal Horse Artillery units in the barracks were on the scene.
However the fire-fighting efforts were subject to the kind of confusion which often attends crisis incidents. The township fire brigade despite having the local knowledge of the town engineer and a town councillor on board had difficulty in finding a working fire hydrant. And the military were forced to pump water from the Liffey; the distance involved meant that there was little pressure in their hose.
Gradually the efforts of the fire fighters began to tell. The township fire hose “ably worked by Mr Quinn and his assistants plied a constant stream on the blazing stables while military, civilians and police vied with each other to save the adjoining houses.” There were great fears that the blaze fanned by a strong wind could race from one house to another if not contained.  After a fierce struggle with the fiery elements the brave workers had the satisfaction of seeing their efforts rewarded and by six in the morning (three hours after the blaze was detected) a few smouldering embers were all that was left of what threatened to be a serious conflagration.
There was however one casualty who sadly did not escape the inferno: the charred remains of a brood mare were discovered on removing the debris.
The Kildare Observer concluded its report of the incident – which seemed to have been witnessed first-hand by the reporter such was the level of vivid detail – by stressing that “credit is due to the local fire brigade, police and civilian workers for their concerted action in averting what seemed to be a very serious outbreak.”
It was a close call as had the fire escaped it could have raced through the closely-packed dwellings of Newbridge and the town might not have survived its first centenary year never mind last to its bicentenary.
Series no: 299.

In October 1912 Newbridge was very nearly reduced to ashes in the year of its first centenary, writes Liam Kenny in article 299 of his weekly series


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