Friday 24 January 2020

Fire crews battle blaze for three hours to save heritage house

Michael McHale

A BLAZE engulfed one of the country’s best known heritage homes last night, just 48 hours after a Hollywood film crew finished shooting scenes there.

Firefighters rushed to Russborough House near Blessington, Co Wicklow, when the fire broke out at about 9.30pm.

Five units of Wicklow Fire Brigade were called to the scene where they spent almost three hours battling the fire.

There was no-one in the building when the fire broke out in the west wing.

Fire crews succeeded in containing the fire and prevented flames and smoke from spreading to the rest of the building, which houses collections of silverware, porcelain, plasterwork, and furnishings.

Local councillor James Ruttle said it was feared the battle to control the fire may have resulted in water damage to the property.

The mansion, which was built in 1741, previously hit the headlines in 1974 when an IRA gang, including British heiress Rose Dugdale, stole paintings valued at Ir£8m.

Twelve years later, Dublin criminal Martin Cahill stole Ir£30m of paintings from the house.

Owners Sir Alfred and Lady Clementine Beit gifted the building to the State in 1978 but continued to live there until their deaths in 1994 and 2006. It is open to the public as a tourist attraction.

The blaze-damaged west wing was where most of Lady Beit’s valuable possessions and jewellery were kept.

But because Oscarwinning film director Steven Sodebergh had been shooting scenes for his new movie in the historic building up to the weekend, many of these precious items had been removed.

If the operation to control the fire had failed and the blaze spread to the central part of the building, many priceless interiors could have been destroyed.

Gardai were at the scene last night. A probe into the cause of blaze will get under way today.

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