This is a colour piece published in the Kilkenny People alongside news features of a major fire at a Supermac’s outlet on the city centre’s High Street.
“SOME mess. Shocking… shocking.” The Garda on duty at the door has been here for several hours, taking stock of the scene, and even he is finding the prospect tough to take in.
It’s noon on Wednesday, the day after the Supermac’s premises on High Street was gutted by fire, and despite the incessant teeming rain, crowds can’t help but slow down and stop to take stock of the skeletal, charred remains of what was once a much-loved pit-stop in town, as alarms and sirens continue to wail in the background.
The enormous windows at the front facade of the building are almost impossible to see through – they have turned brown from the heat of the flames, and are covered on the inside with a crusty debris – making the true extent of the fire’s damage tough to comprehend.
There are, however, two small patches on the window panes of the entrance doors where the brown residue and filmy debris have been wiped away, allowing people the chance to take stock of the damage incurred by the building.
“The front windows are fire-hardened and have gotten very soft, so don’t lean against the door,” the Garda advises us as we crouch slightly to peer through to the interior, clearing a spot on the ground upon which a mass of soggy, charred remains has built up from people leaving the premises.
The vista is reminiscent of the carnage one might identify with a news report from a war zone. The building is simply gutted – a scene of total devastation. The steps leading to the upstairs seating are covered in bruised and semi-melted tiling; the countertops from the Café Relish and Papa John’s Pizza stands to the left are still standing, but only just. The main counter – located just to the front of the kitchen where the fire broke out – is unrecognisable to the unfamiliar eye, completely blanketed in the ruins of the ceiling that had stood above it.
The windows being so dark, the only light on the scene comes through the enormous gap in the ceiling, obscured only by the support beams that had held it in place. The upstairs toilets on the promises had occupied this space a mere 15 hours ago.
Walking down William Street in the rain, there is significant condensation on the windows of the retail units – clearly the after-effects from the heat of the flames. A few windows have been blown out by the intensity of the heat. Across the street, crowds taking shelter under the Tholsel – the site of the last major High Street fire in 1985 – cannot take their eyes off the carnage. The sirens wail still.
Nobody wants to look, but the passers-by cannot tear their eyes away from the scene. “I’m not from around here,” one young man says, “but I would’ve been out here a fair bit. Always remembered coming in here after a night out or after a gig at the Cat Laughs. Wouldn’t recognise the place now – it’ll probably need to be flattened,” he supposes, with a tinge of emotion.
Most poignant is an orange plush toy, a Tigger from the Winnie the Pooh series, lying strewn on the ground – a solitary blob of colour in the midst of the grey ruins – having been blasted from a nearby slot machine when its glass panels were blown apart in the flames. Beside the door, two more toys sit derelict. The image of children sitting happily offering their toys an occasional chip might be some time in returning.