Quinn's premises was gutted by fire in May 1958.

From the archives: Mayo family trapped in blazing building

PART ONE

By Tom Gillespie

SIXTY-four years ago this month (May 10, 1958) The Connaught Telegraph carried a report of the heroic rescue of a family who were trapped in the upper floor of their house on Main Street, Castlebar.

The report read: Women wept and prayed, while men clinched with fear as the quiet and peaceful atmosphere of a Saturday night in Castlebar was suddenly transformed into a terrifying scene when members of a very popular local family, who had just retired to bed for the night, found themselves, in a matter of minutes, struggling for their lives in their home, which was ablaze with all the fury that can be associated with the worst of fires.

Shortly after the alarm was raised one of the most daring and heroic rescue efforts that ever took place in the county was effected, when the family, who were trapped on the top floor of their three-storey home, were brought to safety before hundreds of spectators when death almost seemed inevitable.

The terrifying drama followed an outbreak of fire that took place in the chemist shop and home of Mr. Patrick Quinn, just after his wife, Mrs. Rita Quinn, MPSI, had retired for the night - their two children Catherine, aged two, and Aileen, aged one, having gone to bed some time prior to that.

The fire was discovered at 11.15 and the incidents which took place afterwards are given hereunder by our reporter who was at the scene after the alarm was raised.

First of all, we must refer to the outstanding efforts of Mr. Pat Quinn in his really wonderful action in saving the lives of his wife and two children, and we feel this touching description given by a gallant Station Officer Thomas Devereaux graphically describes it.

"As I reached the top of the ladder I could see the floor inside and I knew the room was ready to give away in minutes. I will never forget the heroism and outstanding courage of Pat Quinn who restrained and consoled his wife until I was in a position to receive her on my shoulder. We both owe our lives to his restraint."

Mr. Philip Hoban, who witnessed the whole incident, said: "I never saw such an exhibition of silent heroism as that given by Pat Quinn." And, he added: "Tom Devereaux and his son were great."

Indeed there is no tribute too high that can be paid to him while the highest possible credit must also be given to Mr. Thomas Devereaux who, at great personal risk, rescued Mrs. Quinn; and to Mr. Paddy Mangan, popular member of the nursing staff, Mayo Mental Hospital, who rescued one of the children.

Also deserving of many tributes paid to him was fireman Thomas Devereaux Jnr., who assisted his father in the rescue and who received injuries when hit by a falling roof tile, and had to receive medical treatment.

At 11 p.m. peace and quietness reigned supreme as people made their way home after the pictures and some odd groups stood talking at different points down the street.

At approximately 11.15 the first episode in this destructive fire and dramatic rescue took place when Mrs. Quinn appeared at the window on the top floor of her house. Mr. Phil Hoban, who saw her, heard her say: "Will somebody get Pat? There is a fire downstairs."

Mr. Hoban then said he went over to the front door, was about to open it but thought it better not to do so as he knew a breeze would worsen the fire.

Immediately people were attracted to the scene. Mr. Martin O’Mongavin, who was one of the first to arrive, rushed to get Mr. Quinn and ‘phone the fire brigade.

In a matter of seconds Main Street presented scenes of great excitement as people rushed to the burning building as the alarm was given, but few people thought that it was as serious as it subsequently proved to be.

Mr. Quinn, who was nearby making arrangements to go fishing the next day, and was actually writing out a list of fishing flies, found himself struggling for the lives of his wife and two children in a matter of seconds.

Rushing to the house immediately the alarm was raised, he dashed up the stairs of the burning building and carried one of his children to safety, leaving her on the footpath.

He dashed back into the building again. It was ablaze at this stage but nevertheless, he made his way through flames and smoke up to the top floor to rescue his wife and other child.

But there was no return. He and his wife and child were trapped by the fire which was ever increasing in fury with heat and flames growing in intensity.

Showing great coolness he supported his wife and child at the window and calmly consoled them as they awaited rescue. People on the street talked to them while others rushed to try and get ladders.

The report spoke of 'flames shooting from all places' as rescuers were beaten back by the blaze. Hopes of rescuing the trapped family faded second by second and as the fire worsened, women wept and prayed.

Mr. Robert Kilkelly handed a ladder across a gate to Mr. Phil Hoban and Mr. Martin Walsh but it was too short to reach the window sill where the trapped family were, at a height of about 25 feet.

Displaying great courage, Mr. Paddy Mangan actually ran up the ladder and, performing a rather unbelievable and yet most spectacular feat, climbed the last few rungs with his hands upwards until he just managed to reach the child, who he carried down to safety.

As Mr. Mangan was about to climb the ladder again to try and rescue Mrs. Quinn, station fire officer, Thomas Devereaux, arrived on the scene accompanied by his son, Tommie, also a member of the brigade.

Showing to advantage his experience of fire-fighting, he immediately took control of the situation.

* Part 2 in next Tuesday's print edition