Double tragedy at Christmas

Exactly 40 years ago this week the tragic deaths of two young boys in a devastating house fire shocked the Falls Road. Today for the first time the McCrory family – originally from English Street in the Pound Loney – speak about the tragedy and the boys’ Christmas Day burial in 1964

In the soaring blaze, which resulted from an electrical fault in their Pound Loney home, brothers Cornelius and Gerard, aged just four and eight, lost their lives through smoke inhalation as they lay, wrapped in each other’s arms on the night before Christmas Eve, 1964.
Once part of the close-knit Pound Loney community, their parents Con McCrory and his wife Kathleen, nee Ferris, had lived in their home in English Street with their two daughters, Patricia, 5, Anne Marie, 7, and three sons, Cornelius, 4, Gerard, 8, and Dermott, aged just six months, until the events of that tragic night.
And speaking about the tragedy that shook their world 40 years ago this week, Kathleen and daughter Anne Marie McGlone are still clearly devastated by their loss, and can both remember vividly the events of that horrific night, December 23, 1964.
Now on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the double tragedy, a special Mass has been organised in honour of the two young boys.
“I can remember that night so vividly,” says Anne Marie. “All of us were in bed, there only were two bedrooms, my mother and father were in the front room with the cot and in the back room there were two double beds, myself and Patricia in one, and Gerard and Cornelius in the other.
“And I remember when we woke up and realised there was a fire. I remember my mother, she had baby Dermott in one arm and Patricia by the hand, and she told me and Gerard to hold on to her petticoat, so that we could all get out together.
“My father wasn’t there,” adds Anne Marie, “he was already downstairs trying to control the blaze, and Cornelius wasn’t with us either, but nobody even realised he was still in bed, he never woke up.”
Anne Marie, who was aged just seven at the time, says that the memories of the fire still haunt her even now, and admits that she can still see the thick black smoke that shrouded their home, as clearly as she did on that tragic night.
“We couldn’t even see in front of us,” says Anne Marie, who was regularly left in charge of the other children given her maturity and sense of responsibility for her brothers and sister. “The smoke was so thick and when we got to the top of the stairs we were all holding onto my mother, but the stairs were so hot that I let go.
“And I was holding Gerard, so we were left behind, and my mother didn’t realise because the smoke was so bad. So we let go . . . well . . . I let go.
“We kept going back and forth to the stairs to try and escape, but we were so young and it was so hot and we were scared, and we couldn’t see,” says Anne Marie. “So Gerard and I went back to our parents’ bed and tried to bury our faces in it, because we couldn’t breathe.
“And then the last time I went back to the top of the stairs, I went on my own, and the man from next door was standing there and he just picked me up and took me,” recalls Anne Marie.
“I was just seven, and Gerard was just slightly older than me – and I didn’t think anything of it for years – but, as an adult, I say to myself ‘I could have saved him’. You think that way. I could have said to the man, ‘Oh hold on, Gerard’s here’ and as an adult I say I could have done that, why didn’t I do that?”
“If only I had said, ‘Gerard’ – and Cornelius, he never woke up, and no one knew.”
Suffering further separation after the events of that night, Anne Marie recalls how her family were separated, her mother and father, and baby Dermott going to live with her grandmother, and herself and sister Patricia with an aunt in Beechmount.
“I don’t think we really minded being apart as kids. I understood that my brothers had died, but I don’t think at seven you really understand, or feel how you would if you were older.”
Escaping from their blazing home in only their underwear, Anne Marie tells of the support the local community offered at the time and of the kindness extended to them by their mum’s sister, then Marie Ferris, who was due to get married on St Stephen’s Day.
“My mother had made her sister’s bridal gown and the bridesmaids’ dresses but those were both in the house the night of the fire, so they were gone too.
“Marie got married, as planned, but we got out of the fire with nothing, so instead of going on her honeymoon, she bought us clothes to wear. We had nothing and I still remember her kindness in doing that.
“The two boys were buried on Christmas Day, 1964, and I don’t think the family were ever the same again.
“Our whole family were different, and my mother is very different. You can hardly speak to her over Christmas, and all the family know that now.
“They know the period of Christmas is still so difficult for her, that 40 years on she is still living what happened, but I don’t think you could ever put that to rest, how could you, if you’d lost your children?”
The last happy days before the tragedy are remembered fondly by the McCrory family; decorating their home with beautiful Christmas decorations and ornaments that Kathleen was always so proud of, and the excitement of the children – with the prospect of new toys – emanated through their home.
The two boys were so different. Gerard – a quiet boy with a very kind face, a member of the Boys’ Clonard confraternity, Cornelius – a different more mischievous child, with an eternal twinkle in his eye who loved to run home from school with his coat tied around his neck like a cape, slapping his leg like he was riding a horse. Long gone, but never forgotten.
A Mass will be held in honour of Cornelius and Gerard McCrory, in Clonard Monastery after the evening Novena on Thursday December 23, and all are welcome to attend.

Journalist:: Staff Reporter

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