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Friday 22 September 2017

Large fire at former Cork hospital 'mostly extinguished' as two-thirds of building 'completely destroyed'

Smoke can be seen quite a distance away (Image via Claire Twohig on Twitter)
Smoke can be seen quite a distance away (Image via Claire Twohig on Twitter)

Claire Fox and Ryan O'Rourke

Firefighters have brought the massive fire at Cork city's former St Kevin's Asylum under control.

The blaze was reported at 8.30pm last night at the derelict St Kevin’s Asylum, which is located near Lee Fields in Shanakiel. 

Duty Officer at the blaze, Gerry Myers told Independent.ie that the fire was brought under control late this morning.

"At the moment the crew are dampening down a few hotspots but it's mostly extinguished."

Cork City Fire Brigade also confirmed that two-thirds of the building is destroyed, but that the roof is intact. The 5th, 4th and 3rd floor have also collapsed.

During the fire the gables collapsed and engineers visited the site this morning to check whether the building needs to be demolished for safety reasons. 

St Kevin's was formerly part of Our Lady's psychiatric complex, and is also known as St Anne’s. 

Six units of Cork City’s Fire Service were assisted by the County Fire Service and they battled the fire late into the night, after a local fisherman raised the alarm. 

Efforts to save the Victorian building were hindered by poor access roads to the site as well as poor water pressure in the hydrants on site. 

Locals have claimed that the fire was a long time coming, with many complaining about antisocial behaviour in the area since the building closed in 2002. 

Cork City North-Central Councillor, Thomas Gould, who campaigned for the derelict St Kevin's to be used as a solution to the housing and homeless crisis in the city expressed his "anger" at the incident and the lack of action taken by the HSE on the site since its closure.

"I raised the issue with Simon Coveney last year as a solution to the housing crisis. It's owned by the HSE and it could've housed families or been made into student accommodation. Now the floors are burned to the ground."

Two units of the Fire Service have remained on scene to battle any out breaks of flame. 

Gardaí can confirm they are investigating the fire as an incident of criminal damage. 

An investigation into the blaze is already underway, with experts trying to determine how safe the remaining parts of the building are. 

The fire is the second in four years, with the previous incident causing damage to the St Anne’s Unit  in 2013.

St Kevin's hospital was built in 1893 as an extension to Our Lady's Hospital located in Shanakiel, Cork. The red-brick building overlooks the River Lee and is visible from almost every corner of the city. It housed 490 patients and was used as a psychiatric hospital until its closure in 2002 and has been left in a derelict state since.  

Like the majority of former Irish asylums, St Kevin's has a complicated history. According to the Inspector of Mental Hospitals in 1940, the patients in the hospital were "vulnerable, innocent and harmless". The Inspector also stated that patients in the "vermin-infested" hospital were often abandoned, ill or victims of poverty. A report from the Inspector of Mental Hospitals documented in Tarquin Blake's, Abandoned Ireland explains how in a female ward of 28 patients, there was only one toilet between patients and it "had no seat or no curtains".

In the years since its closure security efforts were made to prevent the building from vandalism and squatting. In 2012 the HSE reported that it spent €7000 securing the site. In recent years Cork City councillors urged that the building be used as a solution for families who are victims of the housing crisis. 

The burning of St Kevin's is the latest in a long line of similar incidents in Cork city. In 2012 the Good Shepherd Convent was gutted in a fire, while more recently in 2016, the Vernon Mount Mansion was also burned down.

St Kevin's gothic exterior and its watchful eye over the city has made it subject to rumours of being haunted. From people reporting to feel feelings of dread when entering the site to hearing eerie noises from within its boarded windows, the vast site has been visited by those with an interest in paranormal activity over the years.

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