Wednesday 21 August 2019

Nuns died while trying to flee inferno at girls' school

Emergency services at the scene of the blaze at the Loreto College in St Stephen’s Green, Dublin. NPA/Independent collection
Emergency services at the scene of the blaze at the Loreto College in St Stephen’s Green, Dublin. NPA/Independent collection

Chris Parkin and Ralph Riegel

Newly-released Government records provide a stark reminder of one of the most tragic fires in Dublin's history.

Six elderly nuns were killed when flames swept through the Loreto College for girls on one of the capital's best-known landmarks, St Stephen's Green, in the early hours of June 2, 1986.

The dead, all retired teachers at the school who were aged between 60 and 83, were sleeping in a dormitory on the top floor of the four-storey building.

At least some of the sisters were thought to have been attempting to escape the fire as it gained a grip, but were overcome by the intensity of the flames and choking smoke.

Three other nuns got out of the dormitory with their lives and afterwards told how they had looked back to witness what one of them called "a blazing inferno".

"The women who died were reckoned to have been trying to get out of their sleeping area but they did not make it," the school authorities reported later.

The outbreak was first reported by a garda on patrol duty in the city centre at around 3.30am. Eight fire tenders were later needed to bring the blaze under control.

A passer-by in St Stephen's Green recalled that a nun had come out of the building and asked for the fire service to be alerted.

The blaze, which was thought to have been sparked accidentally, possibly in the science laboratory, was subsequently found to have also destroyed a number of school facilities including the science lab, concert hall and dormitory.

People in the area moved in swiftly to lay on supplies of blankets in a bid to ease the ordeal of those able to avoid the full force of the fire.

Today the tragedy is marked by a plaque listing its victims.

It is located in the St Stephen's Green gardens, just yards from the central point of the blaze.

A top-level inquiry failed to identify the precise cause of the outbreak.

Some of the victims were identified only by the rings on their fingers that named the nun's individual patron saints.

The college itself originated 150 years ago and moved to an address in nearby Harcourt Street shortly after the fire.

Later, though, the way was paved for the school to move back to its rebuilt base off St Stephen's Green.

Irish Independent

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