The family caught up in Steeple tragedy

AT just after two o’clock on June 17, 1927, 40 feet of the Falkirk Steeple crashed to the ground after it was struck by lightning during a heavy rainstorm.

The falling stonework famously claimed the life of the delivery horse Irn-Bru, owned by Robert Barr & Sons, which was standing directly below.

Details of the event were later included for posterity on a plaque on the Steeple wall which explains the iconic building’s history.

But what it describes does not tell the whole story of that terrible afternoon when the spire of the town’s most famous landmark was blown off, sending chunks of it cascading on to the high street below.

It’s well known that Irn-Bru perished while James McCornish, who was driving the horse and cart, walked away without a scratch because he was some distance away at the vital moment.

But you have to delve deep into the annals of history to find the story a young family living directly opposite the imposing 140-foot tower who were lucky to survive after tonnes of masonry crashed through the ceiling of their top floor flat, trapping them inside.

Given the scenes of devastation neighbours found as they battled through the rubble to free them, the fact Isabella Barr (21) and her two boys all escaped with their lives from the ruins of their home on what was known locally as ‘Steeple Land’ really was nothing short of a miracle.

Mrs Barr was helped out by the rescuers suffering from no more than a broken leg and a few cuts and bruises.

Her sons, James and Andrew, were covered in dust and understandably scared, but, apart from that, fine.

A shocked James Barr (27), a miner who went on to become a manager, was reunited with Isabella and the children later that day.

They never went back to ‘Steeple Land’, staying with friends for a while before moving first to a house in nearby Bank Street and then to a number of other homes around the district over the years, where they raised James and Andrew and their other 10 children.

Mr Barr died in 1981 aged 81 and Isabella in 1991 at the age of 85.

Following the death of Andrew in 2010 at the age of 84, Stephen Barr (64) is their only surviving child.

And he still remembers the stories told down the years about how his mum and big brothers cheated death that day.

Stephen, a retired local authority worker from Glenbervie Drive in Larbert, said: “What happened 84 years ago really was quite a shocking experience for them.

‘‘As children we were told why our mum had a vivid white scar on her leg and how James and Andrew somehow managed to be carried out of the house without a mark on them.

“It was a story related over the years time and again to the grandchildren and great grandchildren, but, to be honest, as a family we never quite understood why something of such human interest seemed to be overlooked every time the anniversary of the event came up.

‘‘It was not just a landmark building that was damaged that day, there was a human element as well that involved my mum and two oldest brothers having a narrow escape because could very easily have been killed.

“Of course, The Falkirk Herald at the time did report the facts, but that information is not included on the plaque at the Steeple so tourists and visitors are really none the wiser.

‘‘Over the years historians have continued to focus on what happened to Barr’s horse and its driver.

‘‘It really is quite annoying and, now I’m the only surviving member of the family, I would just like to put the record straight and remind people of what I think are some of the most important facts.”

Ian Scott of Falkirk History Society said: “The purpose of the plaque was not to report what happened in June 1927 but to tell the whole history of the Steeple from before 1814 and to do so in a very limited number of words.

‘‘The 1927 incident was mentioned as part of this. However, Mr Barr’s story is very well worth telling and he is using The Falkirk Herald as the best method to do so. It is an important piece of history.”