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News & Features » February 2016 » “The Great Fire of Galway” by Seamus Scanlon

“The Great Fire of Galway” by Seamus Scanlon

Mondays Are Murder features brand-new noir fiction modeled after our award-winning Noir Series. Each story is an original one, and each takes place in a distinct location. Our web model for the series has one more restraint: a 750-word limit. Sound like murder? It is. But so are Mondays.

This week, Seamus Scanlon deals with a pyromaniac.

The Great Fire of Galway
by Seamus ScanlonSeamus11
Shop Street, Galway, Ireland

My brother Sid was a fire starter who started early. He was twelve. He was precocious. He was an igniter atrocious. He was a pyromaniac poet laureate. He was in the vanguard of community outreach art projects, flamewise.

The Great Fire of Galway was biblical in proportions.

“Jesus, Mary, and fucken St. Joseph,” my mother said. She was Catholic hardcore.

Galway had never seen anything like it. Except when the mayor hanged his own son for killing a Spanish sailor. He was hardcore.

Galway is hardcore.

Sid burned the fuck out of Galway basically. I blame myself.

When we were younger I tied him to trees and lit fires under his feet, American Indian style. Kindling, hollow stem rushes, and grass plus 3-in-One Oil—my accelerant of choice—was effective. I danced around him ululating and holding aloft a homemade tomahawk. A few times I could not untie him quickly enough, and his shoes went on fire and/or semimelted. When I released him, he ran up the garden path—the real one—with his moccasins smoldering. Ma hit me. She hit Sid because he was crybaby material. Ma hated touts.

Sid starting purloining books from the library—on napalm, Fire From Heaven, bitumen, colloidal chemistry of volatile liquids, Tynagh mines, and origami (joke!). Then he began cycling through the Galway streets, following lorries, making home-heating oil deliveries. He also watched the ten large storage tanks in the Galway docks with highly flammable eyes.

He set ablaze August-warmed meadows behind our house that burned fast and fierce and beautiful. Like himself.

Petrol bombs were next—breathing in the aromatic volatile fumes before lobbing them onto the diesel-saturated embankment of the railway line. The fires went deep into the soil and moved slow and steady. Like me.

The railway company kept shunting goods wagons out of danger. The fire brigade sprayed the rails and the heavy-loaded wagons day and night as new eruptions of flame and black chocking smoke were birthed from the ground. RTÉ CountryWide covered it for a week.

Sid’s true artistry then blossomed. He targeted the boats at Nimmo’s Pier. They floated low in the Claddagh waters, heavy with coal and turf. He burned them on the cusp of high tide, close to dusk. Then he cut the mooring ropes with a machete (that was purloined from me!)—the boats slipped swiftly away on the strong tide, a floating pyre procession. Bystanders watched. They were so silent. The firemen admired this new phalanx of fire they could never control. The boats passed underneath the nineteenth-century stone arches of Wolfe Tone Bridge, and all was dark until they emerged soon after—the flames brighter still, moving relentlessly past Long Walk toward the far black sea where eels and coelacanths waited.

One night at three a.m. a bright light woke me. I looked out the window. A mile away, high red flames rose from Corbett’s Yard.

Sid’s bed was empty.

I said, “Fuck.”

He was big-time now.

Corbett’s was a sprawling five-acre complex of warehouses and storage sheds adjacent to the Galway docks. It was full of timber, petrol, creosote, turpentine, diesel, paint, peat briquettes, turf, coal, Calor Kosangas cylinders, carpet, and felt. It was asking for it.

It burned for seven days and seven nights. The fire raced across adjacent streets and burned shops and houses. Friendly fire. Glass exploded onto the streets. Fire crews came from four counties. No good.

School was cancelled. Sirens rang. Street urchins sang.

Rats ran for cover. Some leaped into the docks aflame. They sizzled out and floated belly-up and away.

CountryWide came back with two outside broadcast units.

Sid was awake for the seven days. His eyes were bright and feverish. He lived on bread from Griffins Bakery, which was still standing.

In the next issue of the Journal of the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society, the unforeseen benefit of the Great Fire was lauded: unearthing sections of the medieval walls concealed for 150 years within the sprawling warren of Corbett’s Yard. That is academics for you.

When the fire stopped, it was just in time for the first day of the Galway Races. If they had been cancelled, there would have been trouble!

Ma said, “At least there is nothing else left to burn.” I knew the vast storage tanks at the docks were on Sid’s list.

I knew Galway would just be a pale grey dream after that. Just like Ma.


SEAMUS SCANLON is a writer from Galway and currently based in New York, where he is the librarian at City College’s Center for Worker Education. He is a graduate of City College, the University of West London, and University College Galway. His short fiction collection was named after a Boomtown Rats song: As Close As You’ll Ever Be (Cairn Press, 2012). The Spanish translation of the collection, Irlanda en el corazon (2016), is forthcoming from Artepoetica Press. The McGowan Trilogy (Arlen House) was published in 2015. Check out his previous Mondays Are Murder stories, “Laffey Minor,”  “The Resurrection Love Song,” and “On the House.” A short movie based on “The Resurrection Love Song” is in preparation. 


Would you like to submit a story to the Mondays Are Murder series? Here are the guidelines:

—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should be set in a distinct location of any neighborhood in any city, anywhere in the world, but it should be a story that could only be set in the neighborhood you chose.
—Include the neighborhood, city, state, and country next to your byline.
—Your story should be Noir. What is Noir? We’ll know it when we see it.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—Accepted submissions are typically published 6–8 months after their notification date and will be edited for cohesion and to conform to our house style.
—E-mail your submission to info@akashicbooks.com. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

Posted: Feb 8, 2016

Category: Original Fiction, Mondays Are Murder | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,