Lamp appeared to be catalyst for Limerick fire that killed DCU lecturer

Grace McDermott died after staying in friend’s house on losing her hotel room keycard

An inquest into the death of a DCU lecturer heard she died due to carbon monoxide poisoning during a house fire in Limerick, which she only stayed in after losing her hotel room keycard.

Grace McDermott (26), had travelled to Limerick from her home in Dublin to take part in the Great Limerick Run on April 30th, 2017.

Limerick Coroner’s Court heard how, having lost the keycard, she stayed at a friend’s house at The Oaks, Riverbank, Annacotty, after unexpectedly bumping into him while out socialising after the race.

The cause of the fire in the early hours of May 1st 2017 was likely due to a lamp accidentally falling over onto a couch in the bedroom where Ms McDermott slept, the inquest into her death heard.

Garda Sergeant Dave Bourke, a scenes of crime officer attached to Henry Street garda station, said the "initial focus" of the garda investigation centred around a laptop charger discovered in the room following the fire, however this was later discounted.

The investigation switched to the lamp, but he added: “We found no evidence of a lamp”.

It was accepted by all parties the lamp could have been destroyed in the fire, or “torn” off by the force of water used by firefighters to douse the flames.

Paul Collins, a forensic scientist, who carried out a flammable field test on the partially destroyed couch, agreed under questioning from solicitor Cian O'Carroll, representing the McDermott family, that if the sofa had been compliant with the highest fire safety standards, the fire may not have occurred.

Limerick Coroner John McNamara said the only verdict he could return was one of an “accidental death”.

‘Unfortunate events’

He said a number of unfortunate events had led to Ms McDermott staying at her friend’s house after she had become separated from another friend whom she had travelled to Limerick from Dublin with and had planned to stay with in the hotel.

“A series of events transpired which unfortunately led to Grace being in the house where a lamp had falling over, and it would appear, was the catalyst for the fire,” he said.

The room was fitted with a fire door, the court heard.

Mr McNamara said he intended to contact the Department of the Environment, recommending smoke detectors be fitted in every bedroom of every new home in the future, as a mandatory safety measure.

“I don’t know how practical it is … but I don’t think it would be a high price to pay to save some lives,” he said.

“Fire doors prevent (fires) escaping, but when someone is in the room, it’s giving them no chance,” he added.

Four others were in the house at the time of the fire but all four escaped uninjured.

Cathal Sheridan, a friend of Ms McDermott's, who invited her back to the house, described how he attempted to rescue her but was held back by his fellow housemates.

“My abiding memory is roaring Grace’s name. She was the nicest girl you could ever meet; the smartest, most intelligent girl,” Mr Sheridan said.

Ms McDemott’s father Robert, and her fiancé, Colin O’Neill, attended the inquest.

Mr O'Neill, from Portmarnock, told the inquest gardaí gave him back the engagement ring he had presented to Ms McDermott , following her tragic death.