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Dublin: 9°C Monday 25 October 2021

The first ever air disaster happened in... Tullamore

A balloon crash destroyed dozens of homes.

Early_flight_02562u_(5) A drawing of the first gas balloon flight in 1783. Source: Wikimedia Commons

BACK IN 1785, hot air balloons were still a novelty.

The first flight had only been made two years previous and carried a sheep, a duck, and a rooster. Their popularity grew but it was still more than century before the first flight of the Wright brother’s Flyer I.

The technology of the day also wasn’t sophisticated, and there was still plenty of room for things to go wrong, as Tullamore learned on 10 May 1785 when it fell victim to what is believed to be the first air disaster in history.

A hot air balloon was taking off in the centre of the rural town when it is believed to have become snagged on a chimney. This brought the balloon down, crashing into homes and setting them alight.

The ensuing fire destroyed a portion of the town, but was rebuilt, giving rise to the town’s a phoenix on the town’s coat of arms.

Some sources suggest it was only the third time a hot air balloon took off in Ireland.

Reports from the time saikd that as many as 100 homes were engulfed by the blaze, completely destroying Patrick Street.

PastedImage-362 Patrick Street today

Writing on OffalyHistory.com, local historian Michael Byrne explained although a very damaging event for the town, it did have its benefits, as it meant Patrick Street was rebuilt in a way that allowed it to become an important trading district.

The town’s landlord Charles William Bury contributed £550 to the survivors of the fire. Byrne says a copy of the Dublin Evening Post from that month describes it that ”this noble act of charity and manufacture has endeared him to a numerous tenantry”.

Read: 414 years ago, thousands of Spanish troops invaded Kinsale >

More: Dublin used to have a pretty amazing public transport system >

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Nicky Ryan

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