Stardust victims remembered on anniversary of worst fire in Irish history

by Padraig Conlon

39 years ago today a fire tore through the Stardust nightclub in Artane killing 48 young people and injuring 214 others.

Most of the dead and injured were from the northside, victims of the worst fire disaster in the history of the State.

In the early hours of Valentines Day 1981, staff observed a small fire break out on a seat in an alcove behind a curtain and they attempted to extinguish it but failed.

The blaze apparently started after a fire on the roof from the storeroom came through the roof tiles and emerged into the nightclub’s West Alcove banked seating area, falling onto the backrest and the top of a seating bench covered in PVC-coated polyester fabric.

The West Alcove area had enough seats to fit at least 280 patrons.

The fire was observed by a lady who was sitting in front of the West Alcove.

She noticed an increase in temperature but did not smell smoke.

The fire then spread to tables and chairs, and patrons noticed smoke and smelled burning.

A total of 48 people died in the fire and the local community was left utterly devastated.

Most of the dead came from Artane, Kilmore and greater Coolock.

A tribunal of inquiry under Justice Ronan Keane in November 1981 that the fire was probably caused by arson.

The families have also disputed this finding and in 2009 an independent examination into the tribunal found there was no evidence to support Justice Keane’s conclusion.

In 2017, a report from retired Judge Pat McCartan found no new inquiry into the fire was warranted.

While the 1981 finding legally exonerated the owners from responsibility, the inquiry was damning in its criticism of the safety standards.

Keane also criticised the owners and management of the Stardust for “recklessly dangerous practices” when it was discovered that some emergency exit doors had been locked and impeded on the night of the fire.

Those who died in the Stardust fire were remembered last night at a vigil held at the site of the nightclub as a permanent plaque which lists all 48 names was unveiled by former RTÉ reporter Charlie Bird.

Also in attendance were Eamon Dunphy and Stardust campaigners Antoinette Keegan, Jimmy Fitzpatrick, and Eugene Kelly, who all spoke about their continued fight for justice.

Justice for Stardust also shared a video on Twitter with pictures and names of those who died that night.

It said: “14th Feb 1981 a Valentines night, when we lost 48 hearts through greed, which left behind many broken hearts across Ireland.”

Attorney General Seamus Woulfe announced in September that he was ordering a fresh inquest into the tragedy because the original inquest failed to “sufficiently consider those of the surrounding circumstances that concern the cause or causes of the fire”.

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