1943 – Thirty-six people die in a fire at St. Joseph’s Orphanage, Co Cavan.

Thirty-five children and one adult die in a Cavan orphanage fire at St. Joseph’s Orphanage Industrial School run by the enclosed order of Poor Clare nuns. Many of the children were orphans, others were committed either because they were born out of wedlock or as in the case of two unfortunates allegedly committed because the local Roman Catholic priest did not want the children to be looked after by a Protestant neighbor following the death of their mother.

A government enquiry placed most of the blame for the deaths on an inadequate fire service although Irish satirist and coincidentally secretary to the tribunal Bryan O’Nolan wrote under his nom de plume Flann O’Brien:

‘In Cavan there was a great fire,
Judge McCarthy was sent to inquire,
It would be a shame, if the nuns were to blame,
So it had to be caused by a wire.’

It was alleged that the nuns prevented firefighters entering the building in case they saw the girls inside in a state of undress.

Due to the nature of the fire, the remains of the dead girls were placed in 8 coffins and buried in Cullies cemetery in Cavan. A new memorial plaque was erected in 2010 just inside the convent gates at Main Street, Cavan. The plaque was anonymously donated to the Friends of the Cavan Orphanage Victims group.

Photo: The grave containing the remains of the 36 victims


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