State remembrance ceremony for Stardust victims takes place in Dublin

Commemorations were led by President Michael D Higgins

Relatives of those killed in the Stardust fire lay wreaths in memory of the dead. Photograph: Alan Betson

Under bright, summer sunshine, as overhead trees swayed gently in the breeze, President Michael D Higgins led a “beautiful”, “perfect” and “emotional” ceremony on Sunday to remember the 48 victims of the 1981 Stardust disaster.

The event, in the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin, was hosted by Taoiseach Simon Harris and attended by Lord Mayor of Dublin James Geoghegan, TDs and newly-elected MEPs Lynn Boylan and Aodhán Ó Ríordáin.

Guests of honour were families of the 48 people, aged 16-27, who died as a result of a fire in the north Dublin nightclub in the early hours of February 14th, 1981.

Also in attendance were survivors, first responders on the night and members of the families’ legal teams who represented them at inquests into the deaths, which in April found all 48 had been unlawfully killed.

A state remembrance ceremony for the victims, survivors and all those affected by the Stardust Fire was held in the Garden of Remembrance.

The event occurred as Sara Moorehead SC prepares to engage on behalf of the State with the families on a redress scheme this week.

Mr Harris, addressing the families, said the event was vindication for “so many people here today and so many sadly who did not live to see today [who] never gave up fighting for the memory of their loved ones”.

Throughout the event, and between performances of music and reflection, extracts from pen-portraits – short biographical notes – for each of the 48 were read aloud as families placed wreaths on the crucifix-shaped pool.

First heard was that of Michael Barret (17). He was “wise beyond his years and had an infectious laugh” the event heard as his mother Gertrude gently rested the first wreath on the water’s surface.

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Siblings, nephews, daughters, nieces and parents of those who died kissed the wreaths before placing them afloat on the water. Many blessed themselves as they stood for a moment to watch as the wreaths moved gently.

Brigid McDermott placed a wreath for one of the three children she lost, Willie (22), on the water. Others placed wreaths for Marcella (16) and George (18). After, she said she felt she was “holding him” as she lifted the floral tribute to her son, “and I will never get to again ... It was beautiful, really beautiful and I can’t say any more than that”.

As the final wreath, for Paul Wade (17), joined the 47 others on the water, the tributes, of carnations, chrysanthemums and daisies, in yellows, reds, corals, blues, pinks and violet bobbed gently, lining all sides of the large pool.

President Michael D Higgins led the tributes. Photograph: Alan Betson

The event culminated as President Higgins laid a wreath to the 48 on behalf of the people of Ireland, and a band played the national anthem.

“It was very emotional,” said Alan Morton, brother of Dave (19). “It was beautiful, a kind of conclusion but I would have loved my parents to have been here for that moment [of laying the wreath].”

Laura Millar, sister of James Millar (20), said: “It was so emotional”.

Pointing to a tall, full-leafed tree overlooking the parameter of the garden she said: “That tree, just really, really blew in the wind and I felt, that’s him up there listening.”

Veteran campaigner and survivor of the disaster, Antoinette Keegan, who lost her sisters Mary (19) and Martina (16) said it had been a “really emotional day, and a joyful day”. Gesturing to the 48 floating wreaths she said: “Each one of them has a name and has been remembered here today.”

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Music included Christy Moore performing his song on the tragedy They Never Came Home, singers Mary Byrne and Eddie Sherlock, uilleann piper Kevin Rowsome, violinist Zoe Conway and the Dublin Fire Brigade band.

Prayers were led by retired parish priest of Bonnybrook, Fr Joe Jones.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times