The Model School Fire

 The timbers cracked as the flames kissed the sky. I stood on the school wall and watched the fire blaze as the smoke bellowed high and mingled with the clouds.

I thought of one dream I had as a schoolboy but this blaze was years too late for that wish to come true. As I photographed the fight to save the limestone building, I listened and smiled at the cheers from the boys perched on the school wall. As the chant went up ‘Let it Burn – Let it Burn’ my memories of the school I once loved were vivid.

The smell of turf in the open fire.
The squeak of tin whistles from the school band.
The croaks from the choir as we practiced for the Feis.
The screech of chalk along the blackboard.
The panic as the duster made it’s way through the air towards a chattering classmate.
The tension for the first five minutes as we gauged the mood of the teacher.
The lame excuses for not having my homework done.
The box in the ear for telling a fib.
The race to be first to the handball alley at lunchtime.
The sprint to the gate at the start of school holidays.

My First Communion.
The fear in the classroom as we waited to be examined by the priest.
If I didn’t pass I thought I’d be a pagan forever.
The nervousness as we lined for our first confession.
My anxiety when I overheard the ‘sins’ of the boy ahead.
The thunder and rain as we walked to church in our shiny new suits.
The priest who said the weather was bad because God was angry with us for being bold.
I figured we must be very bold because it always rained in Limerick.
The tears in my mother’s eyes when I received the host.
The money in my pocket at the end of that day.

The joy of telling teacher I had a new sister.
I watched over her at school, as a big brother should.
The joy as she won a competition for painting.
The smile as she ran to show me her prize.
The compassion of the teachers the Christmas she died.

Whenever I’m in Limerick I pause and gaze through the railings at the modern school that has emerged from the ashes of that inferno. Gone are the turf fires and the ‘clips in the ear’. They have computers and learn foreign languages now. So well they might boast, but I wonder do they have a Tin Whistle Band?

22 replies
  1. Martin Turner
    Martin Turner says:

    In your photograph of the boys on the wall as the Model school burned, I recognise 3. Two of the 3 were in my class. The lad in the dark jumper 4 from the right is Timmy Duggan of Duggan Insurances.The lad 3 from the right is Eamon Little, son of Dentist Little of Eagle Lodge O Connell avenue. The lad in front of Timmy is, I am nearly certain, Eamon’s brother Joe,now RTEs Religious Affairs correspondant.
    I remember the night well as my school burned and I saw the tears run down Donal Ryans face that night.
    Thanks for the memories and some wonderful photographs.
    Martin

    Reply
  2. Jimmy Hanley
    Jimmy Hanley says:

    Words cannot describe how beautiful and stunning these photographs are you have captured a piece of history that makes the viewer gasp in amazement in knowing that we have actually lived in that time.

    Reply
  3. Seamus Carey
    Seamus Carey says:

    These beautiful pictures capture the harsh landscape where I grew up in Limerick. I think I recognise some of the details still. Unfortunately, time can dim the memory.

    The Colbert Station 15/91 picture of a man in a beret with a bicycle may be a man we knew as ‘Pidgeon’, the beret and bicycle were his hallmarks.. If it is, he used to cycle around Ireland during the year. He used to move on when he got bored or fancied going somewhere else. A neighbour who was brought up in Lock Quay but moved to Foxrock in Dublin used to tell us that she would see him from time to time cycling in Dun Laoighre.

    I have a feeling that a relative features in another of the Colbert Station pictures – I’m trying to confirm if the man sleeping on the left is an uncle of mine. If it is then he was waiting for the Kilkenny bus so that he could return to Newport. He is still alive but not very well.

    Picture 34/91 of St Mary’s Parish Church was taken from the Canal Bank. Picture 70/91 was taken in Athlunkard Street facing towards Corbally.

    Thanks for publishing them.

    Reply
  4. Derek Mulcahy
    Derek Mulcahy says:

    Really enjoyed looking at the Photographs. The one of Derry Sheehan Athlunkard St No. 63 was taken outside St. Marys Bands Dance Hall Mary st Limerick.

    Reply
  5. Sean Mulligan
    Sean Mulligan says:

    Gerry it was like our own little “Reeling Back the Years” going through you fantastic photographs of Limerick. Like you I went to the Model but in the 50’s and have many happy and some unhappy memories of the place. I was indeed very saddened to hear that the place had burned down. I know some of the faces from the shots but the only name I could supply was in photo 14/91 the fireman in the middle is Jimmy Connors. Jimmy’s mother and father were great friends of my family and were some of the nicest people you ever met. He is retired from the brigade now for some time. You had a talent for photography then and I am glad that you have taken it up again and doing well. I was particularly pleased to see your one of Johnny Moroney, he was a beautiful footballer and a joy to watch. I was close to where he scored his first try for Ireland in Lansdowne Road and thought the stand would collapse with the cheering and us jumping about.

    Reply
  6. stephen casey
    stephen casey says:

    Gerry your work is amazing. I never had the vivid experience of such an antique limerick. Im practically still a young fella but my mother and father grew up throughout this era. I love to hear the stories of old characters who walked the streets, the buildings and the utter simplicity that my mother has for so long spoken of, as she reminisces on her childhood, which i find extremely entertaining and to a certain degree bewildering as i was incapable of picturing such scenes. Now you have most certainly satisfied my prolonged icapability in doing so. You are a true perfectionist, a credit to your profession and I would hope to see your manifesto compiled together for a trip down memory lane,hopefully in the not too distant future. Cheers.

    Reply
  7. Declan Little
    Declan Little says:

    Great images that bring back the past vividly. Its not Joe Little on the wall with my brother Eamon but Chris Little and the lad on the far right facing the camera is John Geoghgan as far as I know. Incidently I was part of the old tin whistle band referred to in another post – Swifty was the teacher who instilled a love of music in me for which I am eternally grateful!

    Reply
  8. Mike Greaney
    Mike Greaney says:

    Gerry, your photographs are just simply magic. Your images of the Milk Market are those of my Limerick childhood. You captured an era where the country met the city folk. The faces of the elderly rugged, the very young soiled with a very strong, beautiful human touch about them all.

    Very grateful to see them, Mike.
    ————————————
    Photograph 15/66 Titled Limerick BW317
    That’s Mr Delaney, weaved his baskets in a tiny shop on Gerald Griffin Street, next to the A.I.B.
    ————————————
    Photograph 52/108 Titled Limerick BW891
    These two souls were a part of Upper William Street.
    Correct me if I’m wrong but I think Gabriel’s drinking buddy was called Tucker.
    ————————————
    Photograph 87/108 Titled Limerick BW112
    I had to scratch my head before realizing that this is a reversed image. It must be Brennan’s Row.
    The clue is the tower of the Cathedral, it should be on left.

    Reply
  9. Riobard O Beagain
    Riobard O Beagain says:

    Thanks, Gerry. Eoin Little, the tenth and youngest in our family, sent me on these and they are stunning.

    We lived across the road. Eoin was five and I was seven. Chris would have been 9 and starting Rang a Ceathar, Eamon 11 and probably going into Mr Hawke’s in 6th…. and I was starting Rang a Do with Mattie Murnane.

    Ted Little, the dentist mentioned earlier, was head of the Mid Western Health board and I often think of this fire, directly opposite our home almost, as an association with his passing as he scarcely lasted ten weeks afterwards, he was that riddled with cancer.

    I would love to head up the school tin whistle band! I live near Cashel, in Ardmayle, not a million miles away!!!

    Thanks for the memories, Rob Little. Riobard O Beagain.

    Reply
  10. Joe Little
    Joe Little says:

    Hello Gerry.

    I want to thank you for sharing your wonderful images of Limerick.

    I was asked by a friend of my son’s to examine # 5, to establish the names of the boys on the wall of the Model. The curly-headed one looking at camera is my brother Chris, while the one beside him looking away is another brother, Éamon. Our father was dying that summer of 1977, so it is very moving for me to see them as they witness an event they often poke with him about in his final months. I was studying in Dublin at the time but whenever I returned home the terror of that fire was conveyed to me by my siblings including Chris and Éamon. Éamon says Tim Duggan and a lad called Geoghegan are the other two in the shot. Unlike most of my brothers, I did not go to the Model but your essay on the fire reminded me of some of my own school-going experiences.

    In fact the whole series reawakens memories of people and places: the boy at O’Dwyer’s Bridge, the woman outside RK Devane’s shop, the children in the water font. I probably passed them or their families as I cycled between Corbally and my school, the Crescent.

    I rowed briefly with St Michael’s until I broke my wrist playing rugby. So the shots of the eight on the water and of Johnny Moroney bring back fond sporting memories. And even the still image of the Curraghgower falls mesemerizes me the way the cartaract itself did whenever I watched it rushing by. But the man fishing on Thomond Bridge with his dog as gillie draw me back onto “terra firma”.

    You have captured some of the hardships poverty, the trials of old age and the joys of companionship. But the many precious moments of solitude impressmost of all. From Mount St Lawrence Cemetry to the Long Walk in Corbally, from the traveller at his camp fire to the horse in Rhebogue. Thank you, Gerry, for taking the time to assemble and preserve this archive.

    Long live the Treaty City!

    Kind regards

    Joe Little, RTE.

    Reply
  11. Gerry Mccloskey
    Gerry Mccloskey says:

    Gerry,again great photos,in photo 14/108,John Moloney is the one sitting and i am standing,I remember it well,do you have any photos of wolfe tone street?of the square where we used to play soccer.

    Reply
  12. Gerry O'Donnell
    Gerry O'Donnell says:

    Gerry,

    I thought your photographs were exceptionally good.
    Looked at the foreign travel ones first and was very
    impressed.

    However the Limerick in the Seventies photos were
    in a class of their own. You should consider a book
    of these images if you haven’t already done so.

    Kind regards,

    Gerry.

    Reply
  13. Declan Burke
    Declan Burke says:

    Hello Gerry
    So glad to see that you are doing well and still taking great pictures as only you can. I remember well your first exhibition at Limerick Art Gallery in the 70’s.
    Best wishes for the future
    Dec

    Reply
  14. Sean Shinners
    Sean Shinners says:

    Gerry Love the Pictures in particular the Milk Market the Guy with the white Tee-Shirt with the Cigarette in his mouth is a friend of mine his name is Micky Lysaght from Kileely a well known Limerick Fisherman.

    Reply
  15. Sean Shinners
    Sean Shinners says:

    The Photograph of Gabriel his last name was Hannigan from Smith O Brien ave Kileely when he had a house every bonfire night he would put his furniture in the front garden and light it he was a Family friend who later moved to the Simon Community

    Reply
  16. Derek Flood
    Derek Flood says:

    hi gerry,i was made aware of your photos yesterday i am recently retired from Limerick Fire Brigade and feature in two of them i had not seen them before ,it was my first major blaze the Model School what a fire it was, not sure that it was me you captured so well i am the one holding the hose on close up i had to ask my wife to confirm it even that the guy who told me said i was in some, anyway is there a way to purchase some we are in the process of developing a museum in the Fire Station in mulgrave st at the moment the building is there we just have to iron out a few bumps and stuff,regards Derek Flood

    Reply
  17. DECLAN MC LOUGHLIN
    DECLAN MC LOUGHLIN says:

    I never tire of looking at old photographs of our city and county.
    How did you get on the set of THE LAST REMAKE OF BEAU GESTE I remember they were filming scenes out at Adare Manor back in 1975 or 1976….a number of local actors got work as extras…Claude Byrne, John Butler etc. Well done on an excellent collection- happy and sad memories come flooding back.
    Do you have any shots of Limerick cinemas by any chance …..

    Reply
  18. Ann Nolan
    Ann Nolan says:

    Just love your work Gerry , It’s hard to believe Limerick looked like that , the 70’s is not that long ago. The black and white really brings out the character of the face. keep up the great work.

    Reply
  19. Brid Eve
    Brid Eve says:

    I thought I recognised my brother as one of the boys standing watching the fire, arms folded. He was the late Cormac O’Kelly, a classmate of Timmy Duggan’s. I had left the Modh Scoil by then but I remember it well.

    Reply

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