Posts Tagged ‘Dublin Fire Brigade’

A look at the Dublin story of ‘Joe Edelstein’s Alarm’ in Little Jerusalem.

Back in September, I paid a visit to the Irish Jewish Museum in Portobello, a pretty incredible gem covering everyone from the fictional (Leopold, I’m talking to you…) to the very real Jewish characters in Dublin history.

One of the characters touched upon was Joe Edelstein. Joe’s name would have been very well-known in the area that became Dublin’s ‘Little Jerusalem’. He was a businessman and writer of some importance in the Jewish part of the city. The Irish Times of September 11 1908 noted for example that he spoke at a meeting of the Judaeo-Irish Home Rule Association at the Mansion House in Dublin and proposed that “….this great meeting of Jews resolve to support such measures as will tend to secure for the people of Ireland a full grant of self-government.”

Edelstein wrote a most controversial work, The Money Lender, which was not well received in the Jewish community of the capital. A copy of it can be seen in the museum today. It was felt by some that the book re-inforced negative stereotypes about the community. It was published in 1908. Despite objections to the work, Joe remained an influential figure in the Jewish community, and newspaper archives show he continued to speak at many public events, continuing to champion the Home Rule movement.

Sadly, Edelstein, once an influential figure in his community, was to fall on hard times and turn to drink. The Irish Independent of November 11, 1939 noted that he was fined a sum of 40s for an offence arising out of being drunk. On one occasion Edelstein was fined by damaging works in the National Library.

Manus O’Riordan has done some excellent research on the Jewish community in Dublin, and noted that:

Edelstein was a man with a serious drink problem, and was subject to frequent psychiatric breakdowns, with resulting periods of hospitalisation. In fact, one such commitment to the Richmond mental hospital for a whole nine months stretch stemmed from the scandal of his 1911 conviction for the crime of indecent assault….

… Edelstein lived on New Street, the central venue for James Connolly’s outdoor public meetings during his 1902 Wood Quay election campaign, and a straight continuation of Clanbrassil Street, the principal thoroughfare of Dublin’s “Little Jerusalem”.


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Below are some scans from the Annual Report of the Dublin Fire Department, as the service was known, in 1913. It details the work carried out by the fire service in 1913. The scans below offer some interesting insight into what was going on in the city at the time.

The report is signed off Thomas P. Purcell, Chief Officer. It was concluded on March 6th at Central Station,Tara Street.


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A promotional image for the current run of The Plough and the Stars at the Abbey.

Sara Keating, for The Irish Times, recently wrote a fantastic piece on the background to some of the props in the current production of The Plough and The Stars at the Abbey. You’re only a click away if you want to read it.

One of the props dealt with was the pram belonging to Mrs. Gogan. She discussed the pram with prop maker Eimear Murphy.

The pram being used for the looting in Act Three is one of the oldest props at the Abbey. An original Victorian pram, it was used in the very first production of the play and every production since. Over 100 years old, it is in a delicate state; “one of the wheels is just taped on at this stage”, Murphy says. It was also badly damaged in the fire of 1951, so that while the frame of the pram is original, its casing isn’t. With its delicate frame and unique wooden handles it is totally authentic, and has been especially reserved over the years for The Plough and the Stars

The fire? Well, on July 18 1951 a fire ripped the home of the Abbey apart.The great history of the Dublin Fire Brigade compiled by Tom Geraghty and Trevor Whitehead noted that in was the busiest night of the year for the Brigade, with nine crews fighting the blaze.

What had been the former Mechanic’s Institute and City Morgue was just a gaunt dangerous skeleton festooned with The Plough and the Stars posters, and the ghost of Yeats was left to haunt an eerie smoke-filled chamber.

Flann O’ Brien (Or eh…Myles na gCopaleen) dealt with the fire in his excellent Cruiskeen Lawn column on July 25, 1951. Writing about plans to stage some major plays in the Peacock, he quipped that.

At the moment the company purports to be playing The Plough and the Stars in the Peacock. Why not Juno in the Peacock?

Or why not Autumn Fire?

No, I’m probably wrong- The Plough is probably the right play. After all, it brought the house down.


The photograph below is a gem, showing Fireman Frank Brennan salvaging the above mentioned pram from the ruins of the Abbey.

Thanks are due to the Dublin Fire Brigade Museum for the use of the image. What survived of the pram can be seen on stage in the current run of the O’ Casey play.

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This article aims to provide a brief overview of the Pearse Street Fire of 1936. It is by no means a complete overview of events and I recommend anyone seeking more information on the incident consult ‘A Triple Tragedy in Dublin, The Pearse Street Fire, 1936’, by A.P Behan. That paper was published in the Dublin Historical Record (ISSN 0012-6861, Spring 1997). I have relied on it, and newspapers of the period, for much of the information below.

Men fight the blaze, image taken from Independent. This image was taken moments before an explosion in the premises.

Writing in the Irish Independent in the immediate aftermath of the event , Anthony Flynn wrote of the risks men in the Dublin Fire Brigade faced in the line of work.

The fireman himself thinks only of duty. That duty is clear and defined. And our Dublin firemen do not hesitate. In Pearse Street, as on countless other occasions, these men faced death. Three of them died, displaying a courage equal, if indeed, it does not transcend, that of the battlefield.

The premises of Exide Batteries, at 164 Pearse Street, had been the site of a horrific blaze on the night of Monday October 5th. Due to the proximity of Tara Street Fire Station, it took less than two minutes for the men to arrive on scene. The fire had been detected by the tenants above Exide Batteries at 10.50 p.m. In the definitive history of the Dublin Fire Brigade (The Dublin Fire Brigade: A History of the Brigade, the Fires and the Emergencies, by Trevor Whitehead and Tom Geraghty)they note that

Number 163 housed a barber’s shop at ground level and a private hotel occupying the upper floors. Number 164 had a retail shop belonging to Exide Batteries Ltd. on the front ground floor, vacant offices on the first floor and a family of seven living on the top floor. The basements, although not connected,were the location of a factory in which Exide batteries were assembled….

The fire was fought in terrible conditions. The water supply in the area was nowhere near adequate, for example. A.P Behan stated in his paper ‘A Triple Tragedy in Dublin, The Pearse Street Fire, 1936’ that

There was practically no volume of water and no pressure. Onlookers were incensed at the firemen having to fight such fire in these conditions, and the absence of adequate water supply had the result that the firemen had to get so close to the fire that their uniforms were scorched

Two explosions ripped the premises apart. Initially, two firemen were thought missing in the premises, but quickly it became apparent a third was missing. It was not until about 10 in the morning the next day that the third body was found. The three Dublin firefighters killed in the line of duty were:

Fireman Robert Malone– a veteran of the 1916 Rising who had served as a Lieutenant with “D” Company 3rd Battalion at Bolands Mills Garrison, under Eamon de Valera. He left a wife and child behind.

Fireman Thomas Nugent– who was engaged to be married.

Fireman Peter McArdle– who left a wife and seven children (His funeral mass card is shown below)


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I love this photo. Taken in 1900, it shows two tug-of-war sides. On the left, and boasting some quality custom ‘DMP’ shirts, we have the Dublin Metropolitan Police. On the right, and winning the war of the mustaches, the Dublin Fire Brigade.

Tug-of-war was a hugely popular sportstime in the early twentieth century, and The Irish Times of October 17th, 1908 noted that the Dublin Metropolitan Police team became the “World Champions” of the sport by overcoming the Liverpool Police at Ballsbridge during the August Bank Holiday.

In 1924, the Dublin Metropolitan Police team returned home from England with the ‘City of Hull Tramways Challenge Cup’ and, The Irish Times noted, were recevied by a large crowd which included Mr. Kevin O’ Higgins, Minister for Home Affairs.

Another 1924 report indiciates that along with the DMP, the Gaelic Athletic Association and the Royal Ulster Constabulary among others had strong tug-of-war sides.

While I don’t know the outcome of the 1900 encounter between the DMP and the Dublin firemen, the track record of the DMP in the sport means it doesn’t look good for the firemen. I’d love to hear from you if anyone knows more of their encounters!

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“Willie Bermingham described graphically the awful scene he encountered in that chalet on that bitter cold February day. A frail, old man, blind in one eye, lying dead on a wet bed with an old blanket gripped in his left hand, two cold rooms in that timber chalet, no fuel for the fire and no food in the press and he half naked, stiff in his death sentence, alone and in misery”

This piece is taken from the fantastic The Dublin Fire Brigade: A histoy of the Brigade, the Fires and the Emergencies by Tom Geraghty and Trevor Whitehead, recounting the time Willie was sent into a residence in 1977 as a routine part of his job. The residence was located at Charlemont Street.

Below the picture of Willie I have posted a wonderful and quite witty piece he wrote on himself, which always brings a smile to my face when I read that last line. I think it only right to allow characters of such magnitude to speak for themselves.

Don’t just think of him when a fire engine goes roaring past you on the street, but rather when you encounter an elderly neighbour in need of aid of any sort, including company.

Willie will be twenty years gone from us this Friday.
ALONE continues to work on behalf of the elderly people of Dublin.

“Willie Bermingham landed at the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin 29th March, five years before the big snow of 1942.

One of a family of seven with a father -a farmer, merchant, dealer, turf cutter, scrap man or just a hard worker, and a mother- a great woman to milk cows, feed pigs, cut turf or feed the nation.

Educated at Goldenbridge, St Michael’s Inchicore, on the streets, in the bog and at the university of life itself. Married with 5 children from 17-5 years. Hobbies include hoarding junk and curios and foreign travel.

Joined the Dublin Fire Brigade in 1964 and spent a long time pushing for the pension. Favourite food, good old irish stew and lots of fish. For breakfast several mugs of tea at work. Also loves to eat lots of red tape to teach the bureaucrats a little manners.”

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Dublin Fire Brigade Piper Bernard Mulhall at Liberty Hall

“O branch that withered without age!
Would we could see you where you’re missed
Step airy on the Abbey stage
Play there ‘The Revolutionist’
Or fill with laughter pit and stalls
With Bartley Fallon’s croak and cry
What led you to those castle walls?
We mourn you Sean Connolly”

Lady Gregory.

Another plaque in place, another important part of working class Dublin history marked.

The home of the Connolly siblings, at 58/59 Sean McDermott Street Lower, now boasts a new plaque from the North Inner City Folklore Project. Captain Sean Connolly and his siblings Katie, Joseph, George, Eddie and Mattie all fought with the Irish Citizen Army during the Easter rebellion. The plaque also pays tribute to young Molly O’ Reilly, who raised the green flag over Liberty Hall in 1916.

Among the crowd were historians, trade unionists, activists,relatives of members of the City Hall Garrison and members of the local community. The Dublin Fire Brigade were represented too, due to Joseph and George Connolly serving within its ranks. Joseph was a firefighter at the time of the insurrection. The Fire Brigade can therefore boast something very few others in the city can, in the form of a real connection to the Easter Rising.

Conor McCabe at Dublin Opinion has some more images worth a look over at their blog.

Speeches and audio

James Connolly Heron speaks at the site of the plaque. His speech covers not alone Sean Connolly and his siblings, but the campaign to save 16 Moore Street.

Las Fallon, of the Dublin Fire Brigade Museum, speaks of Joseph and George Connolly.

Dublin Fire Brigade piper plays outside 58/59 Sean McDermott Street Lower.

Wind, coughing, and all the other things nature/people can whip up when you’re trying to record something, but still….


Dublin Fire Brigade members at Liberty Hall

Fittingly, a relative of James Connolly presents a relative of Molly O' Reilly with the green flag to raise.

The raising of the flag

The flag is raised.

Dublin Fire Brigade colour party

Citizen Army uniforms today, spot on right down to the red hand!

Dublin Brigade- Irish Republican Army

Las Fallon, Dublin Fire Brigade, speaks of George and Joseph Connolly.

Banner marking the role of women in the revolutionary years

A poem is read prior to the unveiling

A small selection of the fantastic collection of images from the period on display afterwards

The Starry Plough blows in the wind with the new plaque behind it.

Dublin Fire Brigade trade unionists pay respect. Firefighter Russ McCobb laid this on behalf of Impact workers.

Another snap of the brief talk on the Connolly connection to the Dublin Fire Brigade

The plaque itself

After the ceremony, we decided to visit Glasnevin Cemetery. There, we thought it only fitting to undertake a search for a particular grave with the day that was in it.

The grave was that of Captain Sean Connolly, Irish Citizen Army.

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