Macroom fire: Heroic neighbour is the reason Nóirín survived fatal blaze

One of the more prominent features on the front of Nóirín McAuliffe’s house in Macroom is a satellite dish, prompting thoughts about what she might have been watching on Sunday night.

Now recovering in hospital, she is looking at a different picture when she hopefully emerges from medical treatment.

Her home of some 40 years is gutted from front to back, the eaveshoot drooping sadly, melted by the fierce heat of the fire which swept through the property early yesterday, the same blaze that turned the satellite dish to the colour of rust.

And, far worse, the loss of her son, Kenneth Relihan, as well as that of a family friend, local man Noel O’Mahony.

Locals in St Colman’s Park estate in the Co Cork town were dazed and deeply saddened yesterday morning.

Some admitted, with a sense of bafflement, that they had not heard anything, even as the fire tore through the three-bedroomed terraced house. Yet the quiet estate had been the scene of a terrible drama, played out even before dawn had broken on a day when most people are thinking of sleeping in.

Ken Relihan, aged 27, who died in the house fire in St Colman’s Park, Macroom, Co Cork. Pic: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision
Ken Relihan, aged 27, who died in the house fire in St Colman’s Park, Macroom, Co Cork. Pic: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

Kenneth, 26, had been out socialising in the town and, like so many others on the bank holiday weekend, had been at O’Riada’s nightclub until late. His mother, who used to work in a nursing home in Ballincollig and who has three other children from a previous marriage, was at home along with visitor Noel O’Mahony, from the other end of Macroom.

One of Nóirín’s next-door neighbours is understood to have raised the alarm. The fire service control centre in Limerick said the call was received just shy of 3.55am, with local units in Macroom and Ballincollig mobilised by 4.01am. The first of two units, the Macroom engine, was at the scene by 4.03am.

By then, all sorts of drama was unfolding. Locals said screams and shouts could be heard. Neighbours, including 21-year-old Tim Coleman from across the street, were attempting to gain entry to pull those inside out of the property. It is understood Tim made a number of attempts but was beaten back by the flames and smoke which engulfed the house.

Timothy Coleman who attempted to rescue three people from a burning house in St Colman’s Park in Macroom, Co Cork. Pic: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision
Timothy Coleman who attempted to rescue three people from a burning house in St Colman’s Park in Macroom, Co Cork. Pic: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

Elaine O’Shea said she was a first cousin of Kenneth’s and explained that Tim had been key to Nóirín escaping.

“He was telling her to jump. Only for this guy in here,” she said, gesturing at the house where Tim lives, “there would be none of them alive.”

Despite speculation that one of the men, possibly Noel, helped push Nóirín out the first-floor window, it is believed she jumped. She landed, conscious, according to some locals, but was rushed to Cork University Hospital, where she was being treated in the intensive care unit.

She made it out, but sadly Noel and Kenny did not. According to Martin Coughlan, a former councillor who lives up the street, at one point a ladder was propped against the house to the upper floor.

“Seemingly they had a ladder up to the window and were calling to get out of the window and next there was a loud explosion,” he said. “The window blew out then.”

The interior of the house this morning. Pic: Provision
The interior of the house this morning. Pic: Provision

There were heroic attempts made to avert further tragedy, but the flames were too much. By yesterday morning, the real wonder was how lucky it was that the blaze was contained so it did not spread to either house left or right.

One possibility, although gardaí are continuing to investigate, is that a fat fryer or chip pan put on in the early hours may have sparked the fire.

One neighbour, Fred Ring, said Nóirín and her son were “sound out” and “nice people”, and that he’d been talking to Noel O’Mahony, with whom he was “good friends”, just recently.

The scene outside the house this morning. Pic: Provision
The scene outside the house this morning. Pic: Provision

Martin Coughlan, who said he went to bed at 2am, said Nóirín moved into her house a few years after him, and he is there 40 years.

He said his heart went out to Kenny, who he said was a “harmless young fella”, adding: “This is awful.”

Mr O’Mahony’s own family, including his three grown-up children, are now also left to grieve the events of a bank holiday Monday that panned out in a completely unexpected way.

The scene outside the house this morning. Pic: John Delea
The scene outside the house this morning. Pic: John Delea

As Elaine O’Shea said: “When it’s on your own doorstep, you think things don’t happen like this here, but they do.”


Lifestyle

Another episode, another incredible Cork woman. The tale of Mother Jones, the famous union organiser and activist against child labour in 19th century America.Five things for the week ahead: RTÉ showcase another incredible Cork woman

Holger Smyth part-owns and runs Inanna Rare Books, which has recently opened a ‘rare book lounge’ at the former Hawthorn creamery near Drimoleague, Co Cork.We sell books: Cream of the book crop sold from former co-op

Milton Jones talks hecklers, Hawaiian shirts and the world’s favourite clever Irishman with Richard FitzpatrickMilton Jones: When one line will do just fine

After almost 70 years of trying the search goes on, but so far nothing has been found.Sky Matters: Whether we are alone in the Universe has exercised many great minds

More From The Irish Examiner