Devastation for family as pub destroyed by fire

The Exchange Inn in Ballybunion which was devastated by fire in the early hours of last Saturday morning. Photo by Domnick Walsh
The Exchange Inn in Ballybunion which was devastated by fire in the early hours of last Saturday morning. Photo by Domnick Walsh

Stephen Fernane

'Once everyone is okay, everything else can be replaced,' is how Katie Hellard said her family is coming to terms with the devastating fire that destroyed their family pub in Ballybunion in the early hours of  last Saturday morning.

Katie received the dreaded call from her brother to say The Exchange Inn was on fire, which is when thoughts immediately turned to her mother's safety as she was asleep above the pub.  Thankfully, she was rescued in time by her two sons, Joe and Cody, shortly after the blaze started. Katie thanked two local friends in particular for their vigilance on the night.

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The friends were returning from a wedding in Listowel by taxi when they spotted the smoke on their approach to Ballybunion and alerted the family. "It's thanks to Donald Bennett and Jim Collins, who spotted everything going on. If it hadn't been for them spotting the smoke, I'd hate to think of the outcome; they were amazing. They alerted my brother, Joe." said Katie.

The Hellard family, who also run Kevin's Bar in Listowel, are devastated over what happened, and they thanked fire crews and the wider Ballybunion community for their support in the days since the fire. The bar has strong family links stretching back to the 1880s, and there were pictures hanging in the bar of Katie's grandparents, who once ran the bar. "Once everyone was okay, everything else can be replaced. It's going to take a bit of time to get it up and running again. My dad was a sign writer and a lot of his things are still intact, which is great." Katie added that her family was unaware at the time of the fire that the Ballybunion fire crew was fighting a gorse fire in Moyvane.

"The fire service saved as much of the bar as they could. We didn't hear of the gorse fire, but whichever fire crew turned up, they did a great job. It would have been completely gone only for them coming as quick as they did. We're just happy everyone is okay and how everyone in Ballybunion and Listowel has been so good to us," she added.

Kerry Assistant Fire Officer Mike Flynn meanwhile strongly condemned the people who lit the illegal gorse fires, calling it a waste of resources and man power. "What if the person in need of rescuing was their family member? Those who start these fires just walk away and a few hours later we find ourselves trying to protect someone's home from the fire. These people need to realise it could be the safety of their family member that is at stake," said Mr Flynn.