Wednesday 24 April 2019

Dignified look at tragic loss of life


Well-meaning souls who peddle the platitude that time is a great healer are usually being more hopeful than truthful.

Time has plainly done little to heal the anguish of people whose lives were touched by the devastating fire at the Noyeks timber factory on the northside of Dublin city centre 36 years ago.

Some of them featured in the first of a new series of Disasters, which related the story of this awful tragedy in a commendably low-key and dignified fashion.

The Noyeks factory was located on the corner of Parnell Street and Kings Inns Street at the heart of a quieter, less hurried city. Jack Sheena, the general manager at the time, had been a medical student in Iraq. He came to Ireland in the 1960s. When the revolutionary turmoil in his own country made it impossible for him to return home, he settled here and married an Irishwoman.

Noyeks was a progressive firm which had recently begun manufacturing a new product called chipboard. In the days before the fire, a floor made from another modern material, cork, and held in place with the adhesive Evostick had been laid.

Fatefully, on that grey Monday in March 1972, the central heating system wasn't working, so stand-alone gas heaters had been brought in. An open container of Evostick tipped over onto the floor and was ignited by one of the heaters.

At first, recalled Jack Sheena, no one realised the extent of the fire. Within minutes, however, the three-story building was engulfed in flames.

The people working on the two upper floors were trapped, unable to force open the windows and with no other means of escape, while the fire brigade struggled to make it through the traffic.

Seven people died, among them 19-year-old Patricia Gore, who had begun working in Noyeks that very day. Patricia's older sister, Louisa O'Connor, learned of the fire on the six o'clock news: "All I could see was flames on the telly".

The shocking news of the Noyeks fire was quickly bumped off the front pages of the newspapers by coverage of the violence raging in Northern Ireland, but the pain and suffering of the people featured in the programme chime down the decades.

There was some anger, too, all of it justified. The jury at the victims' inquest recommended that fire safety legislation be reviewed and the government duly appointed a working party.

Its findings weren't published until three years later, and it would be 1981 before new legislation was enacted. By then, 48 more people had perished in the Stardust nightclub fire.

After the suffering related in Disasters, the piddling concerns of 10 Years Younger seem positively obscene by comparison.

Bitchy, dot-eyed, makeover monster Nicky Hambleton-Jones caught up with Pandora, a 52-year-old woman whose 20-a-day smoking habit has rotted her teeth.

While Nicky reported on Pandora's progress since the last time the pair of them met, the voiceover reminded us what Pandora was like before Nicky sprinkled her with fairy dust and the plastic surgeon sliced open her face.

"Cigarettes and stress have waged war on her face and, frankly, there's no doubt who's won. Sagging skin and hollow eyes bear witness to her neglect."

Can there be a more repellent series on television at the moment?

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