Cashel Cinema Fire
The Nationalist 2002
West Cashel cinema burned down on the night of December 29, 1929. The headlines in The Tipperary Star of January 4, 1930 read: CINEMA BURNED OUT Disastrous Fire in Cashel Damage Estimated at £4,000. The cinema, situated in Wesley Square, was completely destroyed by a fire in the early hours of Monday morning. As it was the middle of the night, the building was completely unoccupied at the time.
The Sunday night performance concluded about 10.30 and the operator, Mr. Godfrey, had left about 11 o'clock, after making his usual inspection of the building. On leaving he was satisfied that everything was in order. He took the films out of the projecting box and placed them in the office by the side of the front door, where they were easily removed shortly after the alarm was raised.
It was a coincidence that the picture, Doomsday, was the last to be shown. A few hours later the whole structure was irretrievably doomed to perish in the all-devouring flames.
The building used as the cinema was originally a Wesleyan Chapel. It was erected in 1832 as an inscription, chiselled on a slab overlooking the main entrance, proclaimed. By the side of the cinema was a store, the lower portion of which was utilised for housing the oil engine and electrical generating plant as well as storage batteries. (Cashel had just been switched on the national electrical grid from Ardnacrusha the day before the fire. The switch-on was a cause of great excitement.) A couple of motor cars were also stored with the generating plant and two, the property of Mr. Thomas Hogan, merchant, Main Street and of Mr. Richard Price, U.C., secretary of the local Legion of British Ex-Servicemen, were completely destroyed.
The cinema proper occupied the second storey of the former place of worship. It was extensive with the overhead portions of stables in the yard of Corcoran's Hotel and also the upper storey of the store where the electrical equipment and motor cars were kept. One car owner. Mr. Mark Wynne, proprietor of a well-known theatrical company, which was playing at the Town Hall that night, had his car parked in a shed adjoining the stables and underneath the cinema. The car was dragged to safety just in time for, no sooner was it clear, than part of the burning floor of the cinema crashed into the shed.
By the time the fire was first noticed the building was well ablaze and this fact was going to cause certain questions to be asked at a later U.C. meeting. The owners of the cinema were Mr. M. H. Hannigan and his sister, Miss E. Hannigan, who also had a garage and petrol pumps fronting Main Street. They lived in a private house directly opposite the burned building. They were awakened about three o'clock in the morning by loud knocking. By the time they got to the fire the chances of saving the cinema were remote. The Civic Guards, under Sergeant Hastings, and a good many citizens of the town, responded to the call for help and did all in their power but in vain. By the time the town fire-fighting appliances were requisitioned all hope of saving any portion of the burning mass of buildings was abandoned.
The cause of the fire was never properly established. It was suspected that a lighted cigarette-end may have been the cause. The interior of the building was largely composed of wood and the walls and ceilings were covered with wainscotting and beaver-boarding. The cinema was partly covered by insurance.
The premises were the property of Mr. George Griffin, Friar Street, Cashel, who rented them to Mr. Hannigan. The latter had converted the place into a well-appointed cinema and it was a popular and attractive amusement hall, where first-class pictures were screened.
There was a discussion on the fire at the Urban Council meeting on January 9, 1930. The Town Sergeant, Matthew Kirwin, who was also the fire engine caretaker, stated he received notice of the fire at 4-10 in the morning. He went at once to the Town Hall for the hose, which he found had already been taken to the scene of the fire by David Corcoran. He called up Mr. Connolly, the Town Surveyor, to lock up all the valves to enable a full water pressure on the pipe line between John Street corner and the Fountain. Seeing that all chance of saving the building was out of the question, efforts were directed at saving the adjoining property. He stayed in charge of the hose until 10 am and was assisted at the fire by a number of voluntary workers.
There was a discussion about the state of the hose which, apparently, had two small holes in it. A new hose had been ordered by the Council but there had been a delay in procuring it. Councillor Cahill stated the fire was going a long time before any attempt was made to check it. Councillor English said it looked bad to see civilians and Civic Guards on the scene while the night-watchman, Corcoran, was not there at all. Councillor Davern claimed he had urged the formation of a voluntary fire brigade but his suggestion wasn't acted on. Councillor English added that it was very strange that after a serious fire in the town there was no report from the night watchman. Councillor McCluskey said that the night watchman was supposed to be on duty until three in the morning and the Council was entitled to know where he was on the night of the fire. Councillor English said it was no use discussing the matter until they had a report from the night watchman. He should be required to supply a report about the fire. 'There was such a thing as putting round pegs in square holes and that was done at that Council.'
Subsequently Corcoran was called before the meeting and in reply to the chairman said he did not send in any report of the fire because he thought the Town Sergeant's report was sufficient. The Chairman said: 'We want a separate report from you and we want to know what time you went on the town that night, what time you went home and when you last saw the cinema before the fire.' Councillor Cahill remarked it was a shame to have the water cut off at the time, when the country was flooded and there was so much water in the reservoir. Corcoran replied he was acting under instructions. It was then decided to adjourn the meeting and the discussion on the fire until the report of the night watchman was delivered.
The adjourned meeting produced a lively discussion. Corcoran's report stated that he was on duty all night with the exception of half-an-hour while he was having supper and mentioned several people he was speaking to. He saw the fire about 3.30 am and did all he could to help put it out. As in all matters there was a conflict of evidence. At the previous meeting Councillor John O'Connor had stated he was on the scene of the fire about 2-25 that morning and the roof was already gone in. Councillor Doherty stated that O'Connor's brother, Michael, was there long before him. Councillor English: 'That makes it all the worse for Corcoran. There are a lot of rumours going around. Some say Corcoran was got outside the town that morning.' Councillor C. O' Connor: 'It is to Corcoran's own interest that these people come here and tell us what they know about his movements that morning. We have a member of the Council stating plainly that the fire was raging when he got there.'
At this stage Councillor Cahill intervened: 'If that member was here to-night he might make a different statement.'
Councillor C. O'Connor: 'I don't think Councillor John O'Connor is as big a twister as you. I don't think we should tolerate a big bastard like you ridiculing any member of the Council and insulting him as you did.'
Councillor Cahill: 'I didn't mean to insult or ridicule him. You are like a bull-dog watching every word that comes out of a man's mouth.'
Councillor C. O'Connor: 'I am watching that nothing but the truth will be said about anyone, especially when that person isn't here to defend himself. You big rotten bastard, you are only now what you always were, a twister.'
Councillor English proposed that the Council ask the Local Government Department to hold a sworn inquiry into the whole matter. Councillor Cahill proposed an amendment that the Council deal with the matter by asking the people referred to by Corcoran in his report to verify his statements. On a poll 11 voted for the amendment and 4 for the original proposition. With the passing of the amendment it was agreed to invite the persons named to attend the next meeting of the Council.
The fire was discussed again at a Council meeting on February 4. The people mentioned in the night watchman's report, who had been summoned to the Council meeting to corroborate Corcoran's account of events, did not attend. In the course of the subsequent discussion, Councillor J. O'Connor repeated that he had seen the fire at 2.40 am. Councillor Davern proposed and Councillor Cahill seconded that the Council take no further action in the matter. Councillor English proposed and Councillor C. O'Connor seconded that the Council hold a sworn inquiry. As the amendment received only six votes to the substantive motion's 10, the matter was left to the Council and it appears there was no further investigation into whether night watchman, Corcoran, was doing or not doing his job on the night.