Roma's Hibernian Hall

By Chronofus - 6/12/2001

The Hibernian Hall - Early History

The hall was built in 1900 by the Hibernian Society. Strangely the paper of the time is silent on the event, though of course trying to locate anything in the early papers is difficult with parts missing and major events not well highlighted in the text. It does however, mention their races on St Patrick's day, but makes no mention of the building in the article in anyway. Also, most of the newsprint for the year was taken up with tales of the Boer War, and later in the year, the Boxer Rebellion, and a few mentions of Federation The building appears to have been renovated between 1920 and 1927, to enhance the frontage and to better accommodate the picture show. By 1927 the building had an attractive two-storey frontage with verandahs across the footpath to the kerb line. I would expect this also involved shifting the projector room from the rear of the building to the new second storey rooms at the front of the building. The text of the buildings destruction mentions this gallery as being practically new, so most likely the work was done in early 1927 judging by photographic records of buildings in 1927.

Extract from Western Star 25th July 1931

A disastrous fire occurred at Roma during the early hours of Wednesday morning, resulting in the Hibernian Hall in Hawthorne St being completely destroyed. The adjoining stadium also suffered damage. A cottage adjacent to the hall to the north, occupied by MR E Conlan, had a narrow escape, but the efforts of the brigade were successful in preventing the residence also being burnt. Wattle Football Club had engaged the hall for a dance on Tuesday evening, and everything was apparently as usual when the dancers left for home, and the caretaker locked up at about 1:30AM on Wednesday morning. The night watchman states that he walked down the lane between the School of Arts Hotel and the Hibernian hall about 3AM and did not notice any sign of the fire at the time. Later, after calling a cardriver to meet the Brisbane mail, about 3:45Am, he saw the fire and gave alarm. People who were on the scene immediately after the alarm had been sounded report that the fire had then a very substantial hold inside the hall, and had evidently worked its way from the rear of the premises, where the stage was situated, and the flames even at that time were issuing between the wall and the ceiling on the south side, and through the roof on the south. The galvanised iron walls on the west and south of the stadium obstructed the view from those parts, but from the flames & the roaring of the fire inside the building, it was even then a hopeless task to save the building. Doors and windows were all shut, just as they had been left by the caretaker.

Spectators were quickly on the scene, and were busily engaged in removing furniture, books, etc from Mr Conlan's residence, Mr Conlan being absent from Roma and Mrs Conlan and family were only disturbed by the fire practically simultaneously with the sounding of the alarm. The fire brigade was promptly on the scene and had two branches of hose connected with the main in Hawthorne St (the water main running down the centre of the street). The water main is only three inches running of McDowall St, and ends about 150 yards from McDowall St. After the engine had been running a few minutes, with the two hoses playing on the north west corner and middle of the north wall, the supply greatly diminished, the overhead tank being emptied at the bore, and the electric current being irregular, the pump was not working to full capacity. However, the fire had reached such a stage that ten times the supply would have been inadequate to prevent demolition of the hall. Fortunately Mr Conlan's residence was separated by a galvanised iron wall, and a space of about 15 feet, and the brigade were able to save the building. The fire was very spectacular, particularly when it reached the western section of the hall, where the gallery, practically a new addition, was situated, and the operating room for National Pictures.

When the flames reached this section, the whole surroundings were lighted up as bright as day, and the bursting of the fibro cement panels on the Hawthorne St frontage was like a bombardment of artillery, as the shattered material was blown outward and fragments shot into the roadway. A portion of the stadium also ignited, the flames spreading to the operating box, and the screen fixtures, and more valuable plant and machinery was destroyed.

The hall was a most commodious building, and the destruction of this popular place of entertainment, meetings etc, is not only a very serious loss to the local branch of the Hibernian Society, but is also a very distinct loss to the community of Roma.

Passengers by the Brisbane mail report having seen the reflection of the fire from as far distant as Blythedale when travelling west at 4PM (I am sure the report means 4AM). The hall was insured with the State Government Insurance office for £2700. It is estimated that the loss to the Hibernian Society, including wall, fittings, regalia etc, will be about £1500. The National Pictures Ltd also suffered a loss of about £900. It is understood that a portion of the property was insured for £500. The Western Electric Company, proprietors of the talking equipment which was one of the most up to date in the Commonwealth, lost the whole of its plant, the value of which is reported to be £5000. The insurance there off is not known.

There is one note to be adjoined to the story. Mr R Conlan and family lived across the road slightly further east. Where Mr EC Conlan lived is unclear at this point. He was shown as an occupier for many years across the road where Mohr's Motors was standing at the time. There being no residence there, it is reasonable to assume that's where he conducted business and may well have lived in the house which was owned by Miss Ryan. Mr Eric C Conlan would later become a councilor in 1946 for 6 months until his death in October 1946 at the age of 59.

The Hibernian Hall -Later History

The Hall was rebuilt by GP Williams, based on the plans prepared by Cavanagh & Cavanagh Architects. It reopened on the 28th June 1932. The new building was an attractive tall building better suited to the new movie use the hall had been earlier converted to. The ground floor consisted of an attractive curved, raised stage to show off productions to the seated public. Originally each rear corner of the stage contained a dressing room, which was subsequently removed, but I have no idea of when. Below the stage was a concrete basement connected to the upper area through the kitchen, tentatively called the Supper Room. The front of the building was constructed of a concrete frontage with a rock facing for the lower storey and front piers, with the upper storey being timber with a rough cast metal sheet cladding. Exterior walls elsewhere were fibro cement sheets, though it is suspected the rear wall has always been galvanised iron clad. The roof consisted of scissor trusses lined alternately with crossed lattice and pressed metal panels (by Wunderlich). As far as buildings in Roma were concerned, it was definitely prestigious, probably only rivaled by the Court House, Anglican Church, brick hotels and the Capital Theatre in terms of architectural interest for this and later periods. Of all buildings through time it would not have rivaled the majestic splendor of the original Royal Hotel.

It is not clear when the galvanised structure adjoining was built. It was not in existenmce when the town was sewered in 1962, though it had clearly existed for a good portion of time when the change rooms and toilets were added by Roma Town council sometime shortly after July 1977. The last modification structurally was the addition of some store rooms inside the adjoining structure in August 1995.

The building was finally sold off by the Hibernians on 22nd March 1976. It was bought by Roma Town Council for the sum of $40,000

The Hall has had many uses in its time. It has hosted picture shows, Catholic Debutante Balls, travelling shows of all descriptions, and from records appears to be the major meeting place for Roma from it's construction up until more specific buildings were built in recent times.

Today the building is used by community groups on a regular basis, including the line dancers, Roma Pottery group in the adjoining structure, Youth Works, and Roma Skating. It is used for various functions, including recently the Hobbies & Collectibles Fair at Easter, and the Maranoa Film Festival.

[Photography of the early structure will be added when time permits]