Plumber’s Assistant Dies in Bankruptcy Court Explosion, 1888

From the Dublin Daily Express, 24 January 1888:


About half-past three o’clock yesterday afternoon, a terrific gas explosion occurred in the Bankruptcy Buildings of the Four Courts, and resulted in the death of one lad, the injury of two other persons, and the destruction of a considerable portion of the premises.  The report of the explosion was tremendous, and was heard over a considerable portion of the city, and even in the Phoenix Park.  A great rush of persons took place from both the hall of the Courts and the surrounding streets towards the scene of the occurrence. 

It was in a room on the top floor of the Bankruptcy Buildings that the explosion had taken place, and great masses of freshly fallen debris blocked the approach to the apartment.  It appears that in the room in question, which belongs to the gentlemen’s messengers’ department, an escape of gas had been detected early in the day, and plumbers were obtained to rectify it.  They set to work as soon as they came, but during the day the escape of gas was found to be such that Mr Burton, one of the gentlemen connected with the department, and who occupied the office, had to keep the windows closed. 

Mr Burton was sitting at his table writing, and the plumbers, a man named David Orr and a young man named William Mullaly, aged about 19 years, were engaged in testing the gas pipe with a lighted candle.  Mrs Fitzpatrick, the court keeper, was in the room looking on when the explosion occurred.  Mr Burton was prostrated, and lost all consciousness for a few moments, but presently recovered himself, and succeeded in getting through the mass of ruins by which he was encompassed to one of the windows.  He cried out for assistance to the crowd in the street below, but they gave cheers, as if gratified at the catastrophe which had befallen the Bankruptcy Court. 

Mr Burton presently managed to creep out through the door of the room, having miraculously escaped with a slight cut over the eye, a contusion of the forehead, and a cut on the back of the head.  Mrs Fitzpatrick escaped with a severe shock.  Crowds outside the room door, which included hastily-summoned members of the Fire Brigade, now facilitated the escape of the plumber Orr, who was carried down stairs, and borne to Jervis Street Hospital.  Unhappily it became evident that Mullaly was buried beneath the ruins, and after considerable efforts he was extricated, and conveyed to the same hospital.  Dr Stoker and Dr Connellan examined him and found that life was extinct, the cause of death being apparently a crushing in of the chest.  Orr, it was found, had sustained a fracture of the collar bone.

Besides the smashing of the windows from the concussion, it was found that the ceilings of several other rooms in the block of building besides that in which the occurrence took place were cracked, and fragments of plaster were scattered about the floors. From the Police Court, Inspectors Whittaker, Talbot and Sheridan, with a large number of constables, proceeded immediately to the entrance to the Bankruptcy Court; they were followed by a large crowd who inspected the ruined premises.  The crowd were not allowed to enter the Bankruptcy Hall, but many barristers and attorneys visited the ruins. 

The damage done to the building and the fittings is considered enormous.  Some hundred panes of glass were smashed, and the streets along Chancery Place, Pill Lane and opposite the Police Court were scattered with broken class and pieces of the sashes of the windows and of the roof.  The offices in the Bankruptcy Building were clouded with dust, and in many instances the offices were injured. 

About four o’clock Chief Superintendent Mallon and Chief inspector Hughes (Detective Department) attended, and made inquiries as to the circumstances connected with the explosion.  Mr Merville Crofton and Mr Harty (the City Engineer) attended from the Corporation, and gave instructions as to securing part of the injured building.”

An inquest into the death of William Mullaly took place before Dr NC Whyte, City Coroner, on 26 January 1888.  Alexander Blythe, the carpenter in charge of the Four Courts under the Board of Works,  gave evidence that the same morning Orr had repaired a leak in the Exchequer Court.  They had escapes of gas in the Four Courts very frequently from pipes and pendants. A verdict of accidental death was returned, with the foreman of the jury recommending Mr Mullaly’s family to the consideration of the Board of Works and suggesting a better system to prevent accidents.

A report in the Tyrone Constitution of 27 January 1888 described the explosion as the biggest gas explosion that had ever occurred in Dublin or Ireland. Hundreds of persons who had friends in the Four Courts had been anxious, and much satisfaction was felt (by everyone except the Mullaly family, presumably) that the accident had resulted in so little loss of life.

The Bankruptcy Court was in the Four Courts rear extension erected in the 1830s and it seems that it may have been situated where the Law Society Rooms are today or perhaps in the area of the Chancery Place Courthouse.

Poor Mr Mullaly – yet another forgotten Four Courts fatality?

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Author: Ruth Cannon BL

Irish barrister sharing the history of the Four Courts, Dublin, Ireland, and other Irish courts.

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