Wife of John Godley BL Catches Fire at Leeson Street Party, 1888

From the Waterford Standard, 18 February 1888:

An accident which might have had a fatal termination to a young lady well known in Dublin Society took place on Friday night at a ball given by Mr Molloy QC in Leeson-Street.  As one of the earliest dances of the evening was progressing, Mrs John Godley’s dress accidentally caught fire, and but for the presence of mind and prompt action of Mr Cullen, who was himself seriously burned, and Mr Godley BL in extinguishing the flames, which completely enveloped her, by tearing down a heavy window curtain and flinging it round her on the floor, there is no doubt whatever that, even if she had escaped with her life, she would have been terribly injured.  As it is, her neck and arms have been terribly burnt but she is now progressing as favourably as can be expected.  The accident was caused by the upsetting of a fairy lamp.  Fortunately three doctors were in the room at the time, and Mrs Godley received every attention.”

Where Mrs Godley’s accident took place. 65 Leeson Street Lower, the former home of Constantine Molloy, today.

The ‘Mr Molloy’ of the party was Constantine Molloy SC who resided at 65 Leeson Street Lower and who acted as John Godley’s senior in a number of cases.  Open flames and hooped skirts meant that more than one lady went on fire while dancing – in 1871 Oscar Wilde’s half-sisters Emily and Mary were burnt to death after one of them went on flames during a Halloween ball and the other sought to rescue her.  

But back to the unfortunate Godleys! Cecilia (Cissie) Hitchcock had been a June bride when she married John Godley in 1884. At the time, all the omens seemed good; the couple were keen tennis players active in Dublin Castle society, and John was an up and coming young barrister and politician. By December 1888 Cissie Godley appeared again at the Viceregal court and in January 1889 she was reported as having attended a meeting of the Primrose League at the Ancient Concert Room.   Not long after she gave birth to a daughter, Clara, before going on to take the lead in amateur theatricals organised by John. Everything looked to be back on track!

Sadly, Cissie’s unfortunate accident at Mr Molloy’s party was the least of what she would be asked to bear – with the turn of the 20th century, her life, and John’s, was going to be turned upside down for the most unlikely reasons.  

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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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