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Wednesday 16 January 2019

Popular Irish bar in New York one of six businesses destroyed by 'devastating fire'

The scene of a fire is cordoned off in the Queens borough of New York, Thursday (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
The scene of a fire is cordoned off in the Queens borough of New York, Thursday (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Mícheál Ó Scannáil

A popular Irish bar in New York was destroyed by a devastating blaze in the early hours of Thursday.

Queens-based Sidetracks was one of six establishments incinerated by the fire, in the business community of mainly immigrant-owned small businesses, which was built in 1931.

Owned by Meath native, Bernard Reilly, the bar and restaurant first opened in 1986 and, according to The New York Times, was the unofficial anchor of the community.

Over 200 firefighters across 44 separate units responded to the inferno which occurred between 45th and 46th Street on Queens Boulevard in Sunnyside.

The fire reportedly started in a nearby diner when oxygen met extreme heat in the loft space, known by local firefighters as a "cockloft" which was shared by several of the businesses.

Twelve people were injured in the blaze, including seven firefighters, but the fact that no one was killed was considered miraculous.

A huge backdraught, which is when flames retreat dramatically as an oxygen starved fire is exposed the air causing a huge explosion, left the on-site firefighters enshrouded in a cloud of smoke and flames.

Heartbreakingly for Mr Reilly, who acquired the property in 2012, renovations of the bar had only been completed in the months previous to the blaze. "I’m in shock right now," he told the New York Times.

A local Irish person, who lives and works in the area, said the bar had been a mainstay for the Irish American community in the area.

It was popular when her parents lived in Queens over 20 years ago and remains so.

While it was heart-breaking for the local community to see their hub go up in flames, she mirrored New York Fire Department Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro's gratitude that there were no serious injuries.

"They had just spent five months renovating the bar, she said.

"It was lucky that no firefighters died but the whole neighbourhood burned down, it's really sad."

Just three weeks ago in the same locality, 21-year-old John "Danny" McGee, from Drumlish, Co. Longford tragically died, having been punched in the head outside a bar.

Gaslight pub, where the incident occurred, is just 100m away - across the No. 7 subway tracks - from which Sidetracks gets its name.

A local community group have set up a GoFundMe page and have already reached almost $52,000 (€46,000) of their $100,000 (€88,500) target.

The page has called for donations to aid the businesses involved in the "devastating fire".

"On the morning of December 13th, a devastating fire ripped through the heart of our neighbourhood," they said.

"The fire destroyed six businesses and left dozens of employees out of work in the middle of the holidays. 

"While we are grateful that there was no loss of life, the toll on our business community is unimaginable, and for residents of our neighbourhood, many precious memories of good times at these businesses are also up in smoke."

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