Man (80s) and woman (70s) die in Cork city house fire

Victims of fire on Lower Glanmire Road became first time grandparents just hours before they died

An elderly couple who died in a house fire on the outskirts of Cork city overnight had become first time grandparents just hours before they died.

The bodies of John and Gay O’Donnell were located “close together” in the house on the Lower Glanmire Road in the early hours of Friday morning. Mr O’Donnell, who was in his late 80s, and his wife, who was in her 70s, died after a blaze broke out in their home shortly after 11pm on Thursday.

Their granddaughter was born in Doha in Qatar on Thursday, where their son Mark and daughter-in-law Grace live.

Fine Gael Cllr Joe Kavanagh, who lives on the Lower Glanmire Road, said the couple had just heard the news of the birth of their granddaughter.


“Residents were saying to me that they were sitting down and having a cup of tea (with the couple) last night. A cup of tea and a cake celebrating the birth of their first grandchild – a little girl.

“It happened so quickly. It is a tight-knit community here and they are all rocked by it. They can’t even talk.

“The couple have lived here all their lives. Their son is grown up in his forties. He is a long haul flight captain and pilot and flies for Qatar Airlines. He is getting a flight home out of Doha as we speak.”

Cllr Kavanagh said that the couple were well thought of on the Lower Glanmire Road.

“It is a very united place. The doors are always open on this road and one neighbour would be popping into another. There is a great sense of community here.”

Neighbouring homes were evacuated a precautionary measure after the blaze broke out. Units of Cork City Fire Brigade attended at the scene just minutes after the alarm was raised.

Deputy Lord Mayor of Cork Cllr Ken O’Flynn said he was “deeply saddened” to hear about the death of the pensioners.

“My heart goes out to all those affected by this devastating incident,” he said.

Second Officer with Cork City Fire Brigade, Victor Shine, told the Opinion Line on Cork’s 96FM that they received multiple calls about the blaze at 11.15pm.

“The crews responded and were there very quickly. But at that stage flames were coming out through the windows at the front of the building and through the roof as well. It [the fire] was substantially established inside the building at that stage.

“It was basically getting the fire under control, protecting properties on both sides and again rescuing anybody that may be inside the building.

“Due to the significant nature of the fire it was well into the fire [when the bodies were found],” he said.

He said the conditions in the building were extremely hazardous for fire fighters.

“But we were conscious that there was potential of people being in the building but again the nature and the extreme heat and intensity of the situation made it very difficult.

“An intensive search was carried out and the two casualties were located close together. It was after one o clock this morning the casualties were identified in the building. Our sympathies go out to the family.”

Mr Shine said that it was a challenging situation for members of the fire brigade.

“It was so hazardous inside there that it took a considerable amount of time to make the area safe before we could deploy firecrews in because of the risk of the floors of the building collapsing down on fire crews.

“It was a three-storey building with additional space up in the attic. So the front of the building looks easily accessible. But there were multiple challenges at the back of the building.

“Our hydraulic platforms played a role in keeping that fire under control and getting fire crews in to the back of the building using ladders and hand held fire extinguishing apparatus to control the back of the building.”

Lower Glanmire Road Residents Association described the passing of the “lovely” couple as “devastating news.”

They offered their condolences to the couple’s only son, his wife, their baby daughter, extended family and friends.

Gardaí cordoned off the scene as work continues to determine the cause of the fire. Both bodies were taken to the mortuary at Cork University Hospital for postmortem examinations.

Gardaí are appealing for witnesses to come forward. Anyone with information is asked to contact Mayfield Garda station on 021 4558510, the Garda Confidential Line 1800 666 111 or any Garda station.

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast