Live auctions are fun! For most of us, the worst outcome is coming home with something we really didn’t need, and possibly paid too much for. We get caught up in the moment and carried away by the bidding. Some people end up hauling an antique oak commode, a weather vane, quilt, and assorted items from Maine to Illinois in a Galaxie 500, already containing 2 adults, 2 teens, and a Labrador retriever. The wrought iron chandelier got installed in the cabin we were borrowing. Occasionally, an auction has more serious consequences.
On Wednesday, 15 January 1958, a large crowd of people gathered at the Carmody Hotel, 38 Abbey Street in Ennis, Ireland. The County Clare hotel had discontinued operation the previous August, so furniture and other hotel items would be auctioned over a 3-day period. The auction took place in a large upstairs dining room, 50′ by 30’—the Sarsfield room. The corner fireplace had a fire blazing to provide heat. The room below, the Commercial Room, was empty and locked.
People came from a wide area. In its heyday, the Carmody Hotel had been a gathering place for influential political figures, including Daniel O’Connell (1775-1847), who used it as his local election headquarters. Supposedly the bed from the room he typically slept in expected to be a hot item. Some bidders were looking for antique furniture; many local residents simply wanted a memento of the 3-story hotel that had been a fixture since 1804.
The auction started at 11:15, and was going well. The auctioneer called for a lunch break at 1pm, resuming at 2:30. The room was crowded with bidders. Some reports claimed there were 50 people5; others, 80; and one even 200¹! No one knew the exact count, but the room was full. As a new lot of linen items came across the auction block, the floor in the center of the room began to sag, finally giving way.
Those standing in the center found themselves falling 14 feet, into the room below. Others found themselves sliding down the sloping floor. A couple furniture pieces were grabbed by people nearby, who prevented those items from falling into the hole. They managed to keep them in place until someone brought rope to secure them permanently.
Meanwhile, the room below filled with people, dust, and debris from above. That room being empty and locked was both a blessing (no one was in there for the floor and people to fall on) and a curse (the doors were locked, so no one could get out). The trapped dust allowed no visibility for those victims.
Townsfolk walking by the building realized there was a problem, and quickly broke out the windows and began to evacuate the trapped people. Across the street at the Queens Hotel, the Corbett family held a wedding reception from the double wedding of brothers William Joseph and James. The guests heard the noise and came out to help. Elizabeth Kelly, one of the brides, was also a nurse. She set to work, in her wedding dress, helping the injured, as other emergency personnel arrived.
Eight people died from the floor collapse, with another 25 injured. Fourteen of those sustained injuries serious enough to require treatment at the hospital, though they were released soon afterwards. Many of the dead died of asphyxiation, inhaling the airborn dust when they attempted to scream.³
Compared to other tragic events, this may not rank high for the number of casualties or monetary losses. This disaster was not only written up in local and Irish papers, it made it to the wire services and was reported in the New York Times, and even the Lodi (California) News-Sentinal. Granted, details got muddled and the numbers exaggerated a bit by the time it got to California, but Lodi felt it was worth publishing.
This disaster also had a huge impact on Ennis. In 1958, its population was 6000 or so. Everyone in town knew someone who died, someone who was there and didn’t die, or someone who was there, helping to rescue people. As evidenced by the articles cited and linked below, the town vividly remembers this disaster and continues to retell the story on the anniversaries in the paper, through video (below) and in books. I have articles for only the 45th, 50th, and 60th anniversaries linked below, but I suspect there are memorial articles from other years that never made it to the internet. Every article I came across always listed the eight victims by name. In 1998, a plaque with their names was installed on the second building owned by the Carmody hotel. It was across the street, and was undamaged by the collapse.
Coincidentally, one of the victims was Josephine Carmody, a 39-year-old mother of five, married to . . . a Michael Carmody. None of the articles mentioned if her husband was descended from the Carmody line that had once owned the hotel.
So, what does this disaster have to do with my (Mike’s) Carmodys? I am not really sure. Mike’s grand uncle, Michael J. (b. 1856) had worked for the competition (Queen’s Hotel) across the street, but I can’t tie him to the Carmody Hotel. One benefit of a disaster is that newspaper articles tended to provide background information related to the incident. From those I learned:
- John Carmody was the original business owner (not building owner) from 1804 through 1824, at least
- Patrick Carmody, owned it at his death in June, 1833. His wife died a week after he did, leaving 10 children behind (6 of them “very young”).
- Michael Carmody was the owner in 1846 through at least 1875.
- Miss Agnes Carmody owned it in 1883.
- Delia & Amy Dillon owned it in 1893. Was it sold outside the family, or was this just a daughter name change?
- It passed to Monica McKenna by 1901, and was under her management until at least 1931.
- Angela F. Bailey was running it (owning it?) by 1943.
- Michael Carmody, who had been Town Clerk of Ennis from 1906 -1946+, died after having relocated to Dublin. He came back to Ennis for burial. He was “the only son of John Carmody and was grandson of Michael Carmody, founder of Carmody’s Hotel.”
- The Right Honorable Baron Richards was the landlord in 1856. George H. Richards (his son?) was the landlord in 1874.
So the original Carmodys owned and ran the business (which apparently started out as and Alehouse, before qualifying as a full-fledged hotel by 1827) until the 1890s. It seems like Michael in #3 had a son, John, who had the Michael in #8. I found another death notice for “veterinary surgeon, 44 yrs., eldest son of late Michael Carmody, proprietor of Carmody’s Hotel, 12 February 1894.” Could that be the same John Carmody mentioend in #8? Dying at age 44 would put his birth year at 1850, so it could fit.
While I’ve acquired a lot of information tidbits, and can create a tentative timeline, I have gaps unaccounted for. Some relationships can be pieced together, but others are still a mystery. How did Patrick (#2) connect to John (#1)? Were they father and son? Older and younger brother? Cousins? How did Michael (#3) connect to either of them?
Mike’s great grandfather, Andrew, started having children in 1845. Could he and Michael (#3) be brothers? Cousins? I still don’t know. I do know that my dedicated “Carmodys in County Clare” file in Family Tree Maker has :
- 29 John Carmodys
- 18 Michael Carmodys
- 42 Patrick Carmodys
- 11 Thomas Carmodys
- 11 James Carmodys
I know some of them are duplicates: one may show up as son to his parents and separately as husband to his wife, but I can’t prove he is one individual. But I’m working my way through the 1901 and 1911 census records, the parish record books, and trying to make sense of Griffiths Valuation, hoping to find enough detail to clear up some of those duplicates, and maybe find the connection between the Carmody family on the west side of the Fergus River (Mike’s) and the east side of the river (hotel family).
My Carmody tree is its own mini-disaster . . .
¹”Eight Killed In Collapse Of Old Irish Hostelry,” Lodi News-Sentinel, 16 January 1958; (https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=UvMzAAAAIBAJ&sjid=B-8HAAAAIBAJ&pg=2355%2C1676452 : accessed 28 February 2020 from Google News Archive).
²Jessica Quinn, “Witness To An Ennis Tragedy,” The Clare Champion, January 2018; (https://clarechampion.ie/witness-to-an-ennis-tragedy/ : accessed 28 February 2020).
³”Carmody’s, Going, Going, Down …,” Irish Identity, January 2003; (http://www.irishidentity.com/extras/people/stories/carmody.htm : accessed 28 February 2020) citing The Clare Champion, January 2003.
⁴”50th Anniversary Of Carmody’s Hotel Tragedy,” The Clare Herald, 15 January 2008: (https://theclareherald.blogspot.com/2008/01/50th-anniversary-of-carmodys-hotel.html : accessed 28 February 2020).
5Gerry Quinn, “The Day That Shook Ennis: Eight People Died In Hotel Disaster 60 Years Ago,” The Clare Echo News, 1 December 2018: (https://www.clareecho.ie/day-shook-ennis-eight-people-died-hotel-disaster-60-years-ago/ : accessed 28 February 2020).