‘The head and face was flattened out and the body was bruised, squashed…’
An image from The Daily Sketch shows rescuers picking through the rubble in an attempt to find more victims underneath tons of masonry. Photo: Courtesy of the Irish Capuchin Provincial Archives

‘The head and face was flattened out and the body was bruised, squashed…’

Firemen tell of heroic rescue efforts

Published: 3 September 1913

It has left bodies broken, families fractured and a community in shock. But last night’s tragedy on Church Street, and the rescue effort that followed it, has also produced stories of uncommon heroism, tales of valour in the face adversity.

Patrick Carberry and John Carney, both members of the Dublin Fire Brigade attached to the Tara Street station, were quick to arrive on the horrific scene; they would rescue alive two boys from the rubble and retrieve the mutilated bodies of several of the victims.

‘The first body we got out was a woman’, Carberry confided to reporters. ‘She was in the middle of the street buried under ten tons of stuff. She was crushed into a pulp. The head and face was flattened out and the body was bruised, squashed, and mixed up with the bricks and mortar and broken splinters.’

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More fortunate was a young boy by the name of Fitzpatrick, who Carney and Carberry found alive amid the ruins. ‘To get at him we had to burrow one way and keep the stuff from falling down and crushing us at the same time’ Carberry recounted. ‘We made a kind of arch of ourselves by bending and holding up the ruins, and kept pushing out the broken stuff from under us, and passing it to the men with the shovels behind.’

‘The boy was jammed down beneath a bed. We had to tie a rope to the bed, and passed the end up through a hole in the debris to men above, who pulled the bed and the stuff on top of it from off of the poor chap. He was nearly naked. His clothes were torn off him. We got bottles of water passed down to us and gave him some to drink, as he was dying of thirst.’

It took a half an hour to bring the boy to the surface. For the firemen, it felt longer, an eternity. The smell of gas had them choking for air and they had to sprinkle water about themselves to keep down the rising dust. 

‘It was tooth and nail to get him out’, Carberry remarked. ‘The crowd above pulled him out with the rope we fastened on to him. He was caught by the feet, pinned down by a big beam, and it was very hard work to get him clear of that.’

Carberry and Carney would also secure the release of Fitzpatrick’s brother, a cripple, who was placed on a stretcher and transferred to hospital.

The Fitzpatrick boys, it would transpire, were among the lucky ones. They were alive and intact. Two others pulled from the carnage were not so fortunate. Dead when found by Carney and Carberry, their corpses ‘were so badly smashed up and mangled that you could not say if they were men or women’. ‘They were’, Carberry added, ‘simply a bruised clot of bodies, mingled in pulp with the stuff of the ruins.’

‘They were in bed at the time of the crash, evidently, so that remains of the clothing would be of little use to tell who they were. All we could do with them was to roll them up in a jumpheet. We couldn't lift them: they were like jelly or pulp, and would fall to pieces if you touched them. They were just smashed and bruised into a mere mass of flesh.’

For Patrick Carberry, last night’s tragedy was a case of awful history repeating itself. Hewas involved in similar rescue work two or three years ago when a tenement house on North Cumberland Street collapsed. His work then, as last night, was striking for its simple heroism, yet neither he, nor John Carney, were willing to monopolise credit. Instead, they praised the efforts of their colleagues and stressed the collective endeavour of members of the Dublin Fire Brigade. ‘Don’t forget our comrades did brave work to-night, too’, they reminded reporters.

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