By Conor Kane
Tributes have been paid to a garda who rescued two homeless people from a disused and historic building which was destroyed by fire in Kilkenny city this morning.
The blaze started at about 9.30am at Bridge House - known locally as Dr Mitchell's House - adjacent to the River Court Hotel on John Street in Kilkenny.
Gardaí believe the fire was started maliciously and two people were arrested later in the morning for questioning.
A passer-by noticed smoke coming from the empty section of the building and immediately alerted the emergency services.
A garda who went to the scene went into the building and realised there were two people - a man and a woman - asleep and got them out to safety.
Several units of the Kilkenny Fire Service attended the scene all morning and brought the fire under control, but the building itself was completely destroyed.
John Street was closed to traffic and people were urged by gardaí and the fire service to stay away from the area because of the presence of large volumes of smoke, as well as the danger of falling debris caused by the fire.
Emergency personnel satisfied themselves that there was nobody else in the building.
Two people were later arrested, not at the scene, and held for questioning at Kilkenny garda station.
"It's fortunate there was no loss of life and we'd like to pay tribute to the good work of the garda," Chief Superintendent Dominic Hayes said.
Bridge House has been described as one of the most architecturally important buildings in Kilkenny city and dates from the 17th century, when it was built by the then-owners of Kilkeny Castle, the Butlers of Ormonde.