Terrible Explosion at Maghera


Long before Maghera experienced destruction in the IRA bombings in the 1970s, Maghera was the scene of a large explosion some eighty years earlier…

The Belfast News-Letter, Friday, January 20, 1893 edition
MAGHERA, WEDNESDAY.- This usually quiet village was yesterday evening the scene of one of the most terrific explosions that has ever occurred in the neighbourhood. Being the usual weekly market day, large numbers of the farming population were in town. Suddenly, about one o’clock, a tremendous report was heard; concurrently with the report of the explosion glass in the windows of many of the houses in the lower end of the town was heard to break, while inside the houses furniture and other articles were hurled about. Some of the people rushed out almost panic-stricken. For a time the scene can be better imagined than described, and it was only when the people found the real nature of the occurrence that anything like calmness returned. The explosion occurred in the rear of the business premises of Mr. Thomas A. Lytle, hardware and general merchant, where a quantity of powder for blasting and other purposes was stored. The shock occasioned by the explosion was so great that it was felt, more or less, in every house in town- in fact, nearly every house bore some testimony of the terrible nature of the explosion. One most fortunate feature of the occurrence is that happily no human life was sacrificed. It is true two men have been seriously injured. However, when it is considered the number of people whose business brought them convenient to the scene of the explosion, it is really surprising that a more distressing tale has not to be to-day recorded. Te roof of the store where the explosion occurred, which was slated, part of the walls and almost everything in the adjoining stores were scattered to atoms, some of the larger stones of the walls of the store smashing and injuring the roof of the houses adjoining. Fortunately none of these dangerous missiles were blown in the direction of the main street, but in some of the out-of-way places many narrow escapes are recorded. After the explosion the debris ignited, and it was not without much difficulty a serious fire was averted. It was with considerable difficulty any reliable particulars of the occurrence could be obtained, as every person connected with Lytle’s place seemed to be equally ignorant as the outside public. The following particulars, however, were gathered:- A respectable farmer, named Henry McPeake, residing at Terhugh, called at Mr. Lyttle’s shop for the purpose of purchasing a grate for a new house he was after building. He grates, it appears, are kept in a large store at the rear of Lytle’s premises. This consists of three apartments- in the first of which corn is stored; the next a variety of general hardware goods, and the third is the place known as the powder magazine. It should be stated that the entrance to this is by the same door as to the other two apartments, and there is nothing to prevent customers passing from one part of the building to the other. McPeake, being unable to get any person belonging to the place to accompany him, went out to the store to select the grate himself. On going into the store another farmer named Mr. James Dripps, of Terragarah, was selecting a pan. These three apartments are on the first storey. Underneath there is a timber store, in which Mr. Robert Lowe, of Moneysharra, and his nephew were selecting timber. None of the parties can tell very much about the explosion. McPeake says he was not long there when the explosion occurred, and that it was so sudden and the shock so great he can tell little about it. At all events, Messrs. Dripps and McPeake are both badly injured about the face and head. Dr. William McGowan happened to be passing Lytle’s place at the time the explosion took place, and ran into the yard. McPeake was coming out of the entrance to the store. Seeing he was able to walk the doctor did not mind him, but inquired if there was any other person inside, and on being informed that there was went into the store and found Mr. Dripps struggling to get out of where he had been knocked down by falling fragments. Dripps was immediately taken to Dr. McGowan’s surgery, where his injuries were attended to. When McPeake descended the ladder it was found that the back part of his pants were burned away and his legs injured. Dr. McGowan also dressed McPeake’s wounds. Both the injured men were permitted to go to their respective homes during the evening. Meantime, the two Lowes, who were in the timber store, made their appearance, little the worse of anything save fright. Both had a very narrow escape, and certainly would have been crushed to death by the floor of the second storey falling in had it not been for the large stock of timber which was in the place that prevented this floor from coming down with a crash. A large crowd quickly gathered, and Sergeant Neely, Acting-Sergeant McCorry, Constables O’Rielly, McGinty, Drunan, and Osborough were early on the scene, and succeeded in extinguishing the fire, which at that time was spreading quickly. It is at present impossible to suggest how the explosion was caused, as both the injured men denied having used matches while in the store. The damage done to the store and the adjoining buildings is considerable, but we understand Mr. Lytle has his property fully covered by insurance. It is stated that there was only a very small stock of powder in the store on Tuesday, and that things would have been much more serious had the usual stock been in the store. If the explosion has made clear anything, it is that powder of any kind should not be allowed to be kept in any place where other goods are stored. No person should have access to a place of this kind save the retailer; in fact, it would be much better that powder magazines should be altogether detached from other buildings where the general public have access.