One of the 48 people killed in the 1981 Stardust fire got within metres of the main exit before being lost in a crush, inquests into the deaths heard.
Donna Mahon (17), from Edenmore, had been dancing with Emmet Mulvey (17) at the time when he noticed the fire from where they were, near the main stage. He looked at the “very small” fire in the west alcove area “for about a few seconds and in that time it had spread up almost to the ceiling” and along the back wall. ·
“I then pushed Donna Mahon towards the main door and I got her to the cloakroom door.” The cloakroom was in the main foyer, near the exit. “The crowd was pushing fiercely at this time and the black smoke was everywhere. The lights went out just then and that’s the last I saw of Donna Mahon,” he said.
Mr Mulvey’s testimony was contained in his 1981 Garda statements, which were read into the record at Dublin District Coroner’s Court. He was one of 16 witnesses whose testimony was recorded in this way on Tuesday as they were unavailable to appear at fresh inquests into the deaths of 48 people, aged 16 to 27, in the north Dublin nightclub in the early hours of February 14th, 1981.
His statement continued: “I pawed my way back across the floor to exit number six but I could not get out as there was a lot of people already at it. I felt my way back to exit number five and there was a crowd there too. I then went to exit number four and it was jammed with people trying to get out.
“I was struggling for my breath and falling to the ground. I crawled into the toilets near exit number six and there was a lot of people there coughing and screaming. I crawled to the toilet and flushed the cistern to see if I could get air but I could not. The heat was fierce and some people were trying to break the windows. I felt weak and I fainted.
“The next thing I remember is waking up in the intensive care unit at the Mater hospital on 15th February, 1981.”
Noel Quigley, whose age was not given, had previously worked as a bouncer at the Stardust. He found three of the six emergency exits locked when he tried on the night to let his friend in for free, he said in his 1981 Garda statement.
“I paid in through exit number two and then went to exit number three to open it ... This is an emergency exit with push bar locks. There was a chain and padlock on this exit. I tried to open the door but the padlock and chain prevented me. I was surprised at this because when I worked at the Stardust the practice was to take the padlock and chains off the doors before the dance started.
“I went up to exit number six. I tried to open this door. This door is an emergency exit with push bar locks. There was a padlock and chain on these doors also.” He saw anther exit locked and furniture obstructing another. In the end he paid for his friend’s admittance.
Other witnesses’ testimony told of locked exits and flames sweeping so fast across the ceiling “you’d think there was petrol on it”.
Nicholas Prior, 18 at the time, told the court when he worked as a lounge boy in the Silver Swan bar – part of the Stardust complex – for “less than a year” in 1979 the exits were “always locked”.
He had been dancing with friends when they “noticed something happening” near the west alcove area. He became visibly upset describing hearing “an explosion” and the court rose for a few minutes.
Coroner Dr Myra Cullinane said she knew it could be “emotionally very difficult” to recall events that night “even after 42 years”.
Mr Prior continued there “was a loud bang and then the lights went out and in those minutes we made our way across towards to the exit. Because I’d worked there I knew the layout very well. I had worked in that area sorting bottles. I looked over at the main exit ... There could have been 100 people, maybe more trying to get out. That’s why we ran across towards the other exits. While we were making our way across the ceiling tiles were falling down, on fire,” he said.
“The next thing I knew we were out through the door. I looked back and seen smoke coming out through the door.”
The inquests continue.
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