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Limerick women who perished in 1972 Greek fire to be remembered in special Rhodes ceremony

The three Irish women were on holidays in Rhodes when they were caught up in the blaze.

File photo of Rhodes
File photo of Rhodes
Image: Massimo Palmieri via Flickr

THREE WOMEN FROM Limerick, who perished in a horrific restaurant fire 44 years ago, are to be remembered at an official ceremony in Greece, one of the victim’s relatives has said.

The bodies of best friends, Theresa O’Shaughnessy (37) from Sir Harry’s Mall, Mary Allen (40) of St Mary’s Park and Josephine Deenihan (40) of North Circular Road, Limerick, who were on holiday in Greece at the time, could not be identified beyond a doubt, as they were so badly destroyed in the blaze.

Thousands of people lined the streets of Limerick for their funerals after their remains were flown home. Since that day, the disaster has largely waned from the public memory.

Padraig Power, a nephew of Theresa O’Shaughnessy and spokesman for the Limerick victims’ families, has tirelessly campaigned for the tragedy to be officially marked by Greece. Today, he said he was “overwhelmed” after receiving news plans are afoot to do so.

Speaking this afternoon, Power said:

This is huge for all of the families. We’re very grateful to the people of Rhodes, and to the local mayor. This is a blot on their history; they are a very proud people, so it’s also very delicate for them.

He said despite 33 people having died in the blaze, the event has never been officially marked by Greece.

Along with the three Limerick victims, the death toll included two Greek nationals and 28 Scandinavian nationals.

“All we have ever wanted was an acknowledgment of what happened to the girls. It’s important that this is now been recognised – while their siblings are still alive,” Power continued.

Around 200 tourists were in Oscar’s Restaurant in Rhodes on 25 September 1972 when fire swept through it, destroying the building in seven minutes.

The cause of the blaze was due to an electrical fault in an air conditioning system which had been installed at the restaurant just a few days before.

The owner of the restaurant was jailed for four years for involuntary manslaughter.

“The fire was so intense, that to identify the bodies was very difficult… even with dental records it was very hard to identify them,” Power explained.

It was really by process of elimination…three bodies came back to us, and so we have to take it that it is them.

Power said “petrol” and “cooking oil”, which had been “stored on the roof” of the restaurant, ignited, and came down on top of his aunt and the other customers.

The restaurant’s highly flammable bamboo walls meant the building was almost instantly gutted.

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“Several people broke their necks when they jumped from the upstairs windows,” Power said.

Theresa O’Shaughnessy, one of seven siblings, was regarded as “the baby of the family”.

Two of her sisters have since passed away, however two more sisters and two brothers are still alive.

“They are overwhelmed by the news,” Power said.

For them, it’s like it only happened last week. They are just too emotional to talk about it.

Paying tribute to his aunt, he said: “I was six when she died. She was the favourite aunt. She always stood out because she was the one who spoiled all her nieces and nephews the most.

“It’s important this is remembered.

Power and others will represent the three Limerick victims of the tragedy at an unveiling of a memorial plaque in Rhodes, on Sunday 25 September this year.

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David Raleigh

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