In 1875 a fire broke out at Malone’s malt house and store house on Chamber Street in Dublin. The fire ignited over 5000 barrels of whiskey which exploded and left the contents pouring into the streets. The incident claimed the lives of 13 people, however, no one died due to the flames or smoke inhalation – all 13 people died from alcohol poisoning, writes RAY CLEERE
Fire is no stranger to cities. The lives of Dubliners have been devastated by fire, most notably the Stardust disaster in which 48 young people lost their lives nearly 40 years ago, on St. Valentine’s Day, February 14th, 1981. Less well known is Dublin’s great fire of 1875, which was often dubbed as the ‘Liberties Whiskey Fire’. The blaze left a deep scorchmark seared through the oldest part of the city.
It was shortly after 8p.m. on Saturday evening, June 18th, 1875, 145 years ago, when a bonfire ignited in the early Vikings settlement of the Liberties, the oldest part of Dublin city, perched high above the River Liffey skirting Christchurch Cathedral.
The whiskey flowed onto the streets of the Liberties as far as the Coombe Maternity Hospital. However, the most remarkable aspect of the disaster was that of the 13 people who died, not one person died from burns or smoke inhalation.
The cause of death was alcohol poisoning from drinking contaminated whiskey from the dirty Dublin streets.
The whiskey that burned in Dublin city during the blaze was worth £54,000; an approximate equivalent today, 145 years later, of €6.5 million.
The fire started at Reid’s malt-house and Malone’s bonded warehouse on Chamber Street, where 5,000 large barrels of whiskey, known as puncheons, were stored. The fire spread rapidly.
As the flames reached the wooden casks holding the liquor, they exploded and a crazy cocktail of fire, whiskey and malt liquor flowed down Dublin’s Ardee Street, Cork Street and Mill Street like lava.
The blazing booze caught fire to everything it touched and spread the flames so quickly that it was impossible to do anything but run, or in some cases, try to capture the precious liquid before it went to waste.
As the burning whiskey flowed through the streets, vast sheets of flames lit up the night sky. Crowds gathered to collect the free hot liquor in every pot, pan and jar they possessed; and when they were full they drank it from their pots as it ran down Ardee Street and into the adjoining streets.
Two porters at the time, named Healy and McNulty, were found ‘lying insensible’ in a lane off Cork Street, with their boots off: they had evidently used them to collect the whiskey.