Tragedy in Dublin as tenements collapse
An image from The Daily Mail, published on the 5th Sept, showing the extent of the damage to the houses on Church Street Photo: Courtesy of the Irish Capuchin Provincial Archives

Tragedy in Dublin as tenements collapse

Children among the dead in Church Street disaster

Published: 3 September 1913

There were horrific scenes on Dublin’s Church Street last night as bodies – injured, maimed and deceased - were picked from the rubble of two collapsed tenement buildings. 

The houses, numbers 66 and 67, came crashing down at 8.30 p.m. and by the early hours of the morning, following a frantic and exhaustive rescue effort, four dead bodies had been retrieved from the ruins. 

Number 66 fell first, enshrouding the street in a cloud of dust and debris. Inside the house lived five families and 25 people. One of them, who had been situated at a window and became aware that something was up, raised an alarm just before the building gave way.

For many, it was too late. In the neighbouring number 67, which contained a similar number of families, residents, on hearing the roar and crash of falling masonry next door, made a dash for the street and escaped before their own their home came tumbling down after them. They all escaped.

The unsuitability of many of the houses on Church Street was known to Dublin Corporation. This plan outlines the proposals made by the Improvements Committee in January 1912 for the re-development of the area between Church Street and Beresford Street. It includes provision for the building of 90 three-room two-storey cottages at £130 each and 156 three-room two-storey cottages at £120 each. For the full report by the Improvement Committee and a subsequent report published in April 1912, see links below.
(Image: Courtesy of the Irish Capuchin Provincial Archives)

The victims were taken to Richmond Hospital where four were later confirmed to have died. The youngest of the deceased has been named as four and half year-old Elizabeth Salmon. Her brother, Eugene (17), who was among those out of work in connection with the dispute at Jacob’s, also perished having returned to one of the houses in an attempt to save his younger sister. 

Heartbroken and tear-stained, their father spoke to reporters about how he learned of his two children’s dreadful fate: ‘I occupied the shop and back parlour of No. 66, and I was at work when one of my little girls came down to me and told me at half-past eight or a quarter to nine o’clock’, he said. ‘I came out of my work and ran up when I found that the two houses had collapsed; and that two of my children Eugene and Elizabeth, had been picked up dead in the streets, but that my five other children were saved. My wife was out at work when it happened.

‘Eugene lost his life in trying to save Elizabeth who was also killed. I have been told, and believe that Margaret gave the alarm, when she heard a chimneypiece overhead falling, and exclaiming, ‘This house is falling,’ she ran out into the street. Then Eugene took the youngest child (Josephine), aged one year and eight months, and brought her out safely. Then she went back for the other children, and got out with them alright, but it was when he was coming away with Elizabeth that they were struck by the falling masonry and killed.’

In addition to the two Salmon children, Nicholas Fitzpatrick, an unmarried man, was also killed. The fourth fatality is a woman, but such was the disfigurement caused to her that it has been impossible to accurately identify her. 

This death-toll may still rise, of course, as by 1am there were believed to be about 20 people still unaccounted for. 

Dr Jacinta Prunty discusses the background to, and impact of, the tenement collapse in September 1913.
'A Disaster Waiting to Happen': the Church Street tenement collapse [user-generated content online]
Creat. Century Ireland; Contrib. Dr Jacinta Prunty; 19/08/13; 2mins 43sec
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dJf4S2LQX3s

The search and rescue effort continued into the early hours of this morning. It was led by units from the Dorset Street and Tara Street fire brigades, which arrived on the scene accompanied by two ambulances. In attendance, too, were Capuchin Fathers attached to the Father Mathew Church, together with a body of about 50 Dublin Corporation employees who, armed with picks, shovels and crowbars, began the laborious work of clearing away the amassed debris.

They toiled in the most difficult and dangerous of conditions, their efforts hampered by darkness and the inadequacy of the lanterns and candles held aloft by willing helpers.

At one point, a faint, agonised voice could be heard from beneath the masonry and voices of the crowd were immediately hushed. Locating the voice, firemen were able to retrieve from the ruins a female victim, as well as a colleague who become overwhelmed in his search for survivors.

This was a moment of rare light amid the gloom and despair. Indeed, the atmosphere around the Church Street area was heartrending in the extreme.

Children wept for their parents and parents for their children, while prayers were offered for the repose of the souls of those who had perished.

Elsewhere, a Relief Fund has been established in the offices of The Freeman’s Journal, to which sympathisers are being asked to contribute shilling of their money. In making such a broad appeal, the organisers of the fund have said that ‘the single shilling will be received as gratefully and acknowledged as gladly as the most generous subscription.’

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