Kirkintilloch disaster recalled: 10 Achill youths perished in Scottish bothy fire
By Tom Gillespie
EIGHTY-five years ago this month 10 Achill youths lost their lives in a bothy fire in Kirkintilloch, Scotland. It happened on September 16, 1937.
Ten days later The Connaught Telegraph gave extensive coverage to the terrible tragedy.
The six-part report read:
The island of Achill was plunged into sorrow on Thursday last by news of an appalling fire disaster at Kirkintilloch, Dumbarton, in which 10 youths from Achill were burned to death while trapped in a fiercely blazing building.
The ill-fated youths, who were engaged as potato diggers, were members of a party of 14 girls and 12 men which arrived at the farm from Edinburgh only the previous Wednesday.
The girls, some of whom were sisters of the youths, escaped from an adjoining building only to have the terrible experience of watching the flames which sealed the doom of their brothers and friends.
Rescue workers and the girl members of the party made desperate efforts to save the doomed men - all of whom were in the same room - but these attempts were foiled by the intense heat and flames which quickly made an inferno of the building.
The only two men who escaped were Patrick Dougan (foreman of the party) and his son, Thomas, who, being unable to sleep due to the pain of a boil on his neck, was one of the first to raise the alarm.
There were heart-rending scenes as the girls realised that there was no hope for the youths, whose bodies, burned beyond recognition, were later extricated from the tangled mass of debris caused by the falling in of the roof. Some of the girls became so hysterical that there was great difficulty in removing them from the danger zone.
Mary Mangan, who lost her three brothers in the fire, was taken seriously ill, suffering from shock. All day on Thursday she kept calling in her delirium for her favourite brother, Michael, who was only 13 years of age.
While some of the girls in an upper storey had to jump to safety, none of them were injured.
The victims of the disaster are:
Thomas Cattigan (19), son of John Cattigan, Achill Sound.
Patrick Kilbane (18) and Thomas Kilbane (16), sons of Michael Kilbane, Points, Achill Sound.
John McLaughlin (23) and Martin McLaughlin (16), sons of Michael McLoughlin, Saula, Achill Sound.
John Mangan (17), Thomas Mangan (15) and Michael Mangan (13), sons of Anthony Mangan, Ballagh, Achill Sound.
Owen Kilbane (16), son of Owen Kilbane, Grahanns, Achill Sound.
Patrick McNeela (15), son of Margaret McNeela, Grahanns.
It is believed if the victims had known the lay-out of the building they might have escaped. As it was, however, their bodies were found huddled together beside a wall opposite to the door.
The cause of the outbreak has not been ascertained, but one surmise is that clothes suspended near a hot-plate caught alight after the party had gone to sleep, or that a dropped cigarette-end fell upon straw lying in the room.
The village of Achill Sound, where the relatives of the ill-fated youths live, was harrow-stricken by the news of the disaster on Thursday.
The dreadful tidings quickly travelled from lip-to-lip, and crowds quickly gathered round the garda station and the post office waiting for additional news.
A pathetic figure was Anthony Mangan, Ballagh, whose three sons had perished. Shaken by sobs, he kept repeating 'They were three good boys’. The family now consists of father, mother, and two girls.
"Tommy had not been home for two years," said grief-stricken Mrs. Cattigan. "The poor boy couldn’t come home because he had to be earning for me and the two children. I was alright while I had my boy, but now…."
The ill-fated building was a brick-built structure divided into flats and occupied by families engaged in potato digging. The part in which the men were sleeping was a one-storey structure, but there was an attic above the women’s section, which adjoined.
The dead youths were all accommodated in one room. The two men who escaped were the foreman, Pat Dougan, and his son, who were sleeping in a separate room.
The disastrous fire broke out about 1 a.m. Only a few minutes after it had been discovered, the flames had got such a hold that it was impossible to save the building.
The girls sleeping in the ground floor rooms got out by breaking windows with their hands.
At first it was not known how many people had perished in the fire until a roll call had been held among the remainder of the workers.
The premises belonged to Messrs. Graham, potato merchants, and there were 30 Irish workers employed.
One of the first people to notice the fire was a man working in a garage near the scene. "I ran out as soon as I saw it," he said, "but in a few seconds the flames had got such a hold that we were prevented from getting anywhere near the building.
"The rescued girls ran about screaming that their friends and brothers were still inside. They tried to get near the part of the building where they knew the men were trapped but were beaten back by the flames."
"When the fire brigade arrived," said another eye-witness, "the place was like a burning inferno. Some of the men and several women had managed to get out, and were making frantic efforts to get to the place where they knew their friends were trapped.
"It was no good, however. They were driven back by the choking, dense smoke and by the terrific heat of the fire. They did all they could to get to those inside, but there was never the slightest chance of rescuing them."
NEXT WEEK: Foreman’s son raised the alarm