“This isn’t about a fire. It’s about people’s anniversaries. 48 of them died. We accept to bethink them. Not lose afterimage of them.”

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FEBRUARY IS A ages that Linda Bishop never enjoys. 

“The minute the agenda flips, you apperceive it’s activity to be a bad month,” she says this week. “Once the ages goes into February, you already alpha activity the niggles. You see the advertisements for Valentine’s Day. It all builds up to that day.”

Errol Buckley says it’s one of those big contest in the year. A milestone. Like Christmas and Easter. Aback the ages comes about again, it brings him appropriate back. He still has active memories of what happened.

For Antoinette Keegan, it’s article that’s consistently on her mind. “I can bethink it like it was yesterday, absolutely I do,” she says. “It’s consistently there.”

As the alarm addled midnight to alpha Valentine’s Day 40 years ago, Linda was accepting a abundant time. 

She’d angry 18 in the January and was out with her friends. Accepting a few drinks and a ball in a club. There were hundreds of bodies there. 

Linda knew a lot of them. There were bodies she knew from school. Bodies from her abode nearby. 

A affiche apparent alfresco the Stardust on the morning afterward the fire. Source: Eamonn Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

“We all met up at about eight or nine o’clock,” she ahead told the Stardust podcast. “We’d accommodated in the Silver Swan pub abutting door. Accept a few drinks in there. Afresh you’d go out – and the bouncers were absolutely austere – if there was a assemblage of fellas, they wouldn’t let them in.

“We’d accommodated fellas from assignment or from the breadth and they’d say ‘will you airing in with me’. Now we’d do it for fellas we knew. Pretend we were a brace so they’d get let in. And afresh they’d go off with their accompany and we’d go off with ours.”

Linda remembers affair a babe she’d accepted from academy in the chain that night. Sandra Lawless. They chatted a acceptable bit on the way in. Sandra was there with her acceptable acquaintance Paula Lewis. Sandra and Paula both died in the fire.

Errol Buckley had gotten there a bit aboriginal that evening. He was nervous, but additionally excited.

He’d accomplished the final of the disco dancing antagonism that was demography abode that night. His brothers Albert and Jimmy were with him to acclamation him on. 

“We were all in the house,” he told us previously. “We’d accept one or two beers. You had to be aboriginal that night, signing bodies in for the competition. You could see the army acquisition afresh that night. The disco didn’t alpha till about bisected 12 and afresh we were out on the attic giving it loads.”

Errol was a accomplished ballerina in his day and swept to victory. He and his brothers were delighted. In the anarchy that followed, he became afar from them. 

“We were active to all the doors allurement ‘have you apparent Jimmy?’, Errol said. “People would say ‘he was in attractive for you’.”

Jimmy Buckley additionally died in the Stardust fire. 

“It’s article that’s consistently there,” Errol says now attractive back. “It’s like a Christmas – that big accident in the year that consistently comes up. It all comes aback to you.

“I go the graveyard on the ceremony every year. My brother is there. And his friends. And their friends. All active in the aforementioned graveyard. You see bodies that day you bang into on the ceremony every year. You ask how they’re accepting on that. It doesn’t feel like it’s been 40 years.”

The accident of the Stardust Source: PA Wire/PA Images

In all, 48 bodies absent their lives in the Stardust blaze – one of the affliction disasters in avant-garde Irish history. It happened in the bistro in arctic Dublin aloof afterwards the cessation of the disco dancing competition. Today is the 40th anniversary.

The ages of the asleep ranged from 16 to 28. The boilerplate age was aloof 19.5 years old. 

There were adolescent affiliated couples amid the dead. Others were affianced to be married. There were branch workers, carpenters, painters, receptionists, boutique assistants, students.

Two brothers and their sister died. Addition two sisters from the aforementioned ancestors died. Parents absent their alone child.

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The majority of them were from the aforementioned accepted areas. The brand of Artane, Coolock, Beaumont, Edenmore. Working chic arctic Dublin. It beatific ripples beyond the community. It wasn’t aloof those who’d absent ancestors members. Bodies had absent friends. Girlfriends, boyfriends. They absent colleagues. 

Over 200 bodies there that night were injured, some seriously. They still buck the scars of what happened that night. Those who were absolute additionally alive with scars from their experience.

Even during the austere times we’re active through now, it’s an abysmal accident of activity amid bodies so young. 

Funerals

Errol says that talking about what happened to him and the hundreds of others who were that night afresh has helped to absolutely bethink the consecutive contest afterwards the fire. 

“I didn’t apperceive what I’d done the day of my brother’s funeral,” he says. “I was in shock at the time. But aback you’re asked about it, aback you allocution about it, things bang aback into place. I apperceive what I did afterwards my brother’s funeral. I went to addition funeral.”

The coffins of four adolescent people, who died in the blaze leave the Abbey of St Luke the Evangelist in Kilmore on 18 Feb 1981 Source: Eamonn Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

There were so abounding funerals. One afterwards the other. Speaking to the Stardust podcast, RTÉ anchorperson Charlie Bird said there’d been bristles and six funerals a day. 

“It’s so adamantine to get your arch about it,” he said. 

Photojournalist Eamonn Farrell said: “I anticipate one of the pictures I took shows 13 hearses lined up alfresco the abbey in Kilmore. And afresh I bethink aback I was in the graveyard there were about bristles funerals demography abode at the aforementioned time.”

The Stardust blaze was a tragedy on a admirable scale. And, alike 40 years on, it’s a tragedy for which the book cannot yet be closed. It’s not over yet. It won’t be for so many. Not until the cessation of the new inquests at the actual earliest. 

40 years on

Antoinette Keegan went to the Stardust with her sisters Mary and Martina. Antoinette was abominably afflicted in the fire, spending several weeks in hospital. Mary Keegan and Martina Keegan died. 

“It still feels like yesterday,” she says. “I don’t apperceive how my ma and da did it. I bethink them advancing to see me in hospital. They’d change from their atramentous clothes into accustomed clothes to appear see me. The doctors said I shouldn’t be told what’d happened until I’d gotten better.

“They told me Mary and Martina were in hospital, and they were grand. They’d active them on 18 February. I don’t apperceive how they did it. I wouldn’t be able to do it. I could never airing in [my mother’s] shoes. She’s the arch woman I’ve anytime known.”

Antoinette’s ancestor John was one of those who spearheaded the board apery the families of victims in the after-effects of the fire. He died alone a few years afterwards Stardust.

The wreaths at the graveside in St. Fintans cemetery for the burial of Julie McDonnell on 18 February 1981 Source: Eamonn Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

In contempo decades, his wife Christine took on the allegation and helped to advance the allegation for added inquiries into the account of the fire.

In an account with RTÉ in 1987, Christine Keegan was asked if it was over for her afterwards the allegation of a Tribunal which accepted advantage to victims.

She said: “It’ll never be over. That anamnesis will be in that abode as continued as I’m there. I’d like to accessible the aperture and let my two accouchement airing in and accept my bedmate beside me, but that’ll never happen. The Stardust took the three of them.”

New inquests

After a cord of attempts over the years to get the government to admission the affectionate of new absolute inquiries into the blaze they wanted, Stardust campaigners assuredly succeeded in 2019. 

In contempo years, the efforts had apparent the campaigners advance to the Dáil with hundreds of supporters. Beyond the country, they managed to get 48,000 postcards active calling for new inquiries. Their acknowledged aggregation put alternating able arguments that it was in the accessible interests for beginning inquests. 

All of the protests, the petitions, the columnist conferences – it eventually led to the Attorney Accepted acceding new inquests into ceremony of the 48 deaths which occurred in the Stardust fire.

The Attorney Accepted disqualified in September 2019 that there was “insufficiency of inquiry” as to how the aboriginal inquests into the 48 deaths were conducted.

After a Covid-ravaged 12 months, it is accepted that the inquests will get beneath way after this year at the RDS in Dublin.

Unfortunately, a adjournment from the Department of Justice in advantageous acknowledged costs for admonition apery families of the victims could beggarly it doesn’t get beneath way until the summer at the earliest. For this to appear on the 40th ceremony and present as an affair is article which has been met with contemptuousness and atheism by the families. 

When the inquests do get underway, however, Christine Keegan won’t be there to see it. She anesthetized abroad in July.

Parents of those who died in the Stardust would be in their 70s, 80s and 90s now. Abounding of them will not be able to see what happens at these inquests. 

Antoinette has absolutely taken on the archetype set by their mother. Common to abounding of those who accept campaigned for these added inquiries is a able faculty of “we will not let this go”.

They are not annoyed with what antecedent inquiries accept told them. They don’t feel they’ve gotten answers to the questions they’ve asked. They’re hopeful that these new inquests can accommodate them.

“She was our active force throughout. Alike aback she was ailing in bed she told me ‘these are my two daughters, I affirm to god I won’t bead it’,” Antoinette says. “And I’m activity to chase that. And my ancestors about me are acknowledging me to do aloof that. We accept to accumulate going.”

(L to r) Christine Keegan, Antoinette Keegan and Eugene Kelly Source: Leah Farrell

Another apostle who won’t see the inquests is Eugene Kelly. His brother Robert died in the Stardust, and Eugene had been a axial allotment of the advancement efforts in contempo years. 

TheJournal.ie batten to him for the Stardust podcast and batten to him afresh alfresco Dublin Coroner’s Court for the aboriginal pre-inquest audition aloof a ceremony afore he died aback in October.

When talking to Eugene, he was amusing and friendly, consistently accommodating to accept a chat. But there was consistently article niggling. Article he couldn’t let go. 

He was a able apostle and angry apostle who dearly absent his brother Robert.  

The accident of a admired one in such alarming affairs is traumatic, but it can additionally accept a added effect. Every activity touches abounding others. The bodies who able the Stardust complete accept as active a anamnesis of that night as those who absent a brother, a daughter, a son.

At the time of the fire, a accepted asleep advance through the community. Bodies would hug in the street. Those in their backward adolescence and aboriginal 20s ability accept gone to a dozen funerals or more. Their classmates and accompany who’d died. 

Linda Bishop said: “Everywhere you went, you knew somebody or you’d apprehend addition name. A babe who was in my chic in school, two absolutely who were in my chic in school. Aloof so abounding and afresh there was two of the Keegans, three McDermotts.

“It was aloof unbelievable. Afresh a babe who lived on my road. She had a little babe and she was killed. And afresh you heard addition brace who larboard a babyish behind. It was horrendous. It was aloof horrendous.”

Lorraine McDonnell, who absent her sister Teresa, declared it as an “earthquake activity through your home”. 

“But the convulsion is still there,” she said. “It hasn’t gone away.”

Each being larboard abaft their own bequest forth with ancestors and accompany who would ache for them. 

As Charlie Bird put it in the Stardust podcast: “But what bodies accept to bethink that sometimes aback journalists use a story, you say 48 bodies died in a fire. They’ve all got ancestors and friends.

“That ripple aftereffect spreads out. These are absolute people. It’s not aloof a number. 48 is not aloof a number. 48 is absolute bodies and their families and their accompany and that ripple aftereffect and we charge consistently bethink that. Alike activity aback in time aback we aloof allocution glibly that 48 bodies died in a blaze in 1981 in the Valentine’s night disco. We’re talking about absolute people. We should never balloon that.”

Marking it today

Each year, as Errol describes, you’d run into the ancestors associates of added victims in the graveyard on the ceremony or at Christmas time. 

For ceremony of the aftermost cardinal of years, a ample and well-attended accident has taken abode to mark the ceremony of the Stardust fire. 

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Bodies aggregate for a candelit acuity at the Stardust armpit aftermost year. Source: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

Like aggregate abroad now, this can’t appear the aforementioned way this year. 

Instead, bodies will be asked to ablaze a candle and say a adoration to mark the 48 who died. 

“There’s a video activity out on amusing media at 3pm,” Antoinette says. “It’s a pre-record of a candelit vigil. It has to be low key this year, and we accept that.”

The association cannot appear calm in being in the aforementioned way this year on what would accept been one of the better gatherings to date to mark the Stardust anniversary. 

Linda Bishop says: “It’s a abashment we can’t do it appropriately this year. I’d consistently go to the mass, and afresh over to the [Stardust] Canonizing Park. 

“You do see the aforementioned faces, sometimes it’s bodies you alone see now already a year. Aback they apprehend out everybody’s names, it’s consistently so heartbreaking. Attractive at all the bodies afflicted by it.”

The Canonizing Esplanade on Dublin’s arctic ancillary has afresh been refurbished by Dublin burghal council, with a committed agriculturalist assigned and butterfly coffer added.

File photo. The Stardust canonizing esplanade in 2006 Source: Graham Hughes/Rollingnews.ie

Those who were there that night accept fabricated that accomplishment to explain to the adolescent ancestors the acceptation of what happened in the Stardust, and the aftereffect it had on them. 

“I accept my ancestors all about me, and they’re a amazing help,” Errol says. “My mother and my brother, Albert, were advanced and centre in the advancement before. And I never absolutely got involved. It’s altered now. I charge to backpack on what they were accomplishing for Jimmy. 

No amount how continued it takes now it’s important to chase it through. Put all the cards on the table. Everybody is fucking dying about us. But there’s new faces advancing up. We’ll backpack it on for them. 

Two bodies who’ve additionally remained advancement are Maurice and Phyllis McHugh. Their alone babe Caroline went to the Stardust for the Valentine’s disco while they went to England for a ancestors wedding. 

Caroline never came home. She was aloof 17.

Phyllis told the Stardust podcast: “She capital to do everything. She was actual happy. I’m animated at the end we gave her aggregate she wanted. We didn’t accept her for actual continued anyway.

“She capital a motorbike. Maurice’s brother had been dead off a motorbike. He was alone 25. We were adage no you can’t accept a motorbike, you can accept a car for your 21st. She didn’t accomplish it that far.

“An abominable lot of bodies accept anesthetized on with no abstraction what happened to their kids. You go to Sutton, you see the kids graves and afresh their assistant and daddy’s names beneath it… I’m actual acceptable now acknowledge god. Except we haven’t got our child, that’s the sad part.”

Maurice McHugh at his home in Dublin holds up a account of his alone child, Caroline Source: Niall Carson

Linda Bishop, abandoning aback she aboriginal met the McHughs, says it’s awfully important on a day like today to bethink the bodies at the affection of this story. And accomplish abiding they’re never forgotten.

“It was absolutely at a bells a few years ago,” she says. “I didn’t apperceive who they were, but they were alien to me. And I heard Caroline was in the Stardust, about the aforementioned age as me. I’m 58 now.

“Phyllis asked me if I’d any children, and I said I’d two boys. She asked about grandchildren, and I said I accept some of them too. And that’s what she was missing. Caroline had never gotten the adventitious to accept that. She hadn’t either. That aloof break your heart. 

I consistently say, accommodating or not, time is gonna appear forth and annoyance you with it. Whatever’s coming, will come. I’m so hopeful [with these inquests advancing up]. Bodies charge to put this away. If they’re able to abutting the book on this at last, they won’t accept to deathwatch up every day cerebration about it. It’s consistently here. It’s not over yet but I’m acquisitive some day it will be. 

The beneath are the names of all those who died in the Stardust fire:

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