The Great Dublin Whiskey Fire

In 2016 the Irish Times recounted the Great Dublin Whiskey Fire, why not see the sight for yourself!

The night a river of whiskey ran through the streets of Dublin

The 1875 Chamber Street fire claimed many victims – each died from alcohol poisoning

At William Smith’s inquest, his father, James, spoke to confirm he was a labourer, unmarried and 21 years old when he died.

That was on Tuesday evening. The previous Friday, William met his neighbour John McGrane at the corner of Bow Street in Dublin’s north inner city. Word was quickly spreading of a huge fire engulfing the Liberties. It was 10pm on June 18th, 1875, and the two young men decided to cross the city to take a look.

Earlier, at 4.45pm, Malone’s malt house and a bonded storehouse on Chamber Street, where some 5,000 barrels of whiskey and other spirits were being stored, were checked and all was in order. At 8pm, the alarm was raised, according to a report in The Irish Times.

The fire spread quickly. As the flames reached the wooden casks holding the liquor, they burst open, sending a burning river of whiskey flowing through the streets. By the time William and John set out for the blaze, the flow measured 2ft wide, 6 inches deep and stretched more than 400m down one side of Mill Street.

Livestock was common in the city at the time and the squeals of fleeing pigs added to the chaos as the tenements rapidly emptied of residents. Amid the “frightening” bustle, crowds gathered along the stream of alcohol; for many, the inferno presented a rare opportunity.

“It is stated that caps, porringers, and other vessels were in great requisition to scoop up the liquor as it flowed from the burning premises, and disgusting as it may seem, some fellows were observed to take off their boots and use them as drinking cups,” reported The Irish Times on June 21st.

“What was the result? Eight men were carried in a comatose state to Meath Hospital; twelve to Jervis Street Hospital; three to Stevens’ Hospital; and one young man to Mercer’s Hospital. And even these numbers do not represent the entire of the persons put hors de combat by the drink.”

In all, 13 people are understood to have died as a result of the fire. None of the deceased perished in the flames, nor did they die of smoke inhalation – each succumbed to alcohol poisoning from drinking “freely of the derelict whiskey”.

Among them was Mr Smith.

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