Stardust waitresses last in area where fire was first seen saw ‘nothing suspicious’

‘I was a 16-year-old waitress. How would I know if doors were being unlocked or locked?’ one witness said

Two former waitresses, thought to be the last people in the area where the Stardust fire was first seen, saw nothing “suspicious” half an hour before the blaze was observed.

Phyllis Cobb and Paula Foy gave evidence on Tuesday at inquests into the deaths of 48 people in a blaze at the north Dublin nightclub in the early hours of February 14th, 1981. Fresh inquests are under way following a 2019 direction by then attorney general Séamus Woulfe on the grounds that the original 1982 inquests did not sufficiently inquire into the cause and surrounding circumstances of the fire.

Ms Cobb and Ms Foy, who were aged 16 and 17 at the time, were working as waitresses in the Lantern Rooms, a function rooms in the Stardust complex. They took their break that night some time between 1.05am and 1.15am, they told the inquests.

They got a carton of chips and went into the Stardust ballroom, ducking under the blind that partitioned off the area of tiered-seating known as the West alcove, to take their break. Both smokers, they had forgotten their cigarettes so stayed only about five minutes in the West alcove.


The inquests have heard the fire was first seen on a bank of seats at the back of the West alcove at about 1.40am. Des Fahy, SC for the families of nine of the dead, asked Ms Cobb if at any point while she was in the West alcove had she had seen anyone acting suspiciously or anything suspicious. She said she had not.

Ms Foy was asked by Simon Mills, SC for the inquests, if she noticed “anything odd or unusual” during their five minutes in the West alcove.

“No,” she said.

“Did you see anybody else there besides yourselves?”

“I didn’t, no.”

“Did you hear anything unusual?”


“Did you smell anything unusual ... particularly notice a smell of paraffin or anything like that?”

“I didn’t”.

The women were asked by counsel for the families about the condition of exits doors and whether they received any fire-safety training.

Mr Fahy said he “noted” Ms Cobb’s evidence that there were “always locks and chains on the [exit] doors” and she agreed further she had never seen doormen unlock doors before patrons entered the venue.

“The doors always had chains on them around the bars or chains hanging with lock on them. I would never know if they were open or closed,” said Ms Cobb. “I was a 16-year-old waitress. How would I know if doors were being unlocked or locked?”

Both said they had received no fire training.

Gary Maloney, BL for the family of Marie Kennedy (17) who died in the fire, asked Ms Foy about her evidence to the 1981 tribunal of inquiry into the disaster, chaired by Mr Justice Ronan Keane, in which she said part of her duties was to clear full ashtrays into plastic bags which, when full, she would “leave them over beside the bar”.

Mr Maloney asked her if those bags might have been “tucked into that area” beside the hot press behind the main bar. She said she could not recall that.

The hot press was located on the other side of wall between the main bar and the West alcove, at the point where the fire was first observed.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times