Families of 48 young people who died in the 1981 Stardust fire gathered on Saturday for what they hope will be the final vigil before they learn “the truth” about how and why their loved ones died.
The annual event is held at the site in Artane, Dublin where the young people – drawn mainly from the surrounding working-class areas of Coolock, Artane, Raheny, Kilmore and Kilbarrack, and also from Sandymount, Ringsend, Belfast, Derry and Co Meath – perished as a result of the fire in the ballroom in the early hours of February 14th, 1981.
The nightclub on the Kilmore Road no longer exists and the site is now a retail and office park. The footprint of the dance floor, however, is part of the site’s car park and on Saturday hosted a marquee where families and supporters gathered to hear prayers, music, poetry and come together to remember their loved ones.
There were several references in speeches to fresh inquests into the deaths, under way since April and nearing their conclusion at Dublin coroner’s court, and hopes that “justice” would be achieved.
Retired RTÉ journalist Charlie Bird, who reported from the disaster in 1981, attended with his wife Claire. Diagnosed with motor neuron disease in 2021 he is now in a wheelchair and he said some words with the assistance of a voice simulator.
“You are amazing families that you campaigned so hard to find the truth of what really happened,” he said.
“I have heard this so often, that if the Stardust tragedy happened in South Dublin the families would not have had to wait over 40 years to get to the truth. I am now hoping that the current inquests will finally get the truth. I love you all. You are all true heroes.”
A video message from John Kelly of the Bloody Sunday Trust in Derry, recorded in front of a permanent plaque remembering the Stardust in the Free Derry museum, was played. Mr Kelly’s brother Michael was one of 13 civilians shot dead by members of the Parachute Regiment on Bloody Sunday in 1972.
You can almost feel this is the last one [vigil]. You can feel the anticipation in the air— Laura Millar
For many years the “Justice for the 48″ campaign has visited Derry at the end of January to mark the anniversary of the atrocity.
Mr Kelly, referencing the years of campaigning by Derry families and the 2010 publication of the report from the Saville inquiry, said: “Our thoughts are with you... We too had fight for many years for the truth. We too had sit through an inquiry and relive it all in harrowing detail.
Following the event families gathered at the “Memorial wall”, a permanent display of the photographs and names of those who died, as the Dublin Fire Brigade pipe band played Amazing Grace. Several family members then, holding a long banner, walked slowly as You’ll Never Walk Alone was played over a sound system.
Among those there was Laura Millar who travelled from Belfast. She is the last surviving sibling of Jim Millar (21) from the Twinbrook area of the city.
“You can almost feel this is the last one [vigil]. You can feel the anticipation in the air [about the inquest verdicts],” she said.
“It’s sad but it’s good. The many friendships have been made over the years among the families will live on.”
Jimmy O’Meara, whose brother Brendan (23) from Coolock perished, said the event had been “very good” and he was “very hopeful now that it’s coming to an end”.
Gertrude Barrett, whose son Michael (17) from Raheny was killed, said she too was hopeful families were coming towards a positive outcome. “But we should have never had to do it. It is a shame on the Irish state what they put 45 families through. They broke the families, they got us in a rawest of grief and thwarted us.”
Lorraine Sorohan’s sister, Teresa McDonnell (16) was killed. “The scars will always be there but please God we’ll have some healing and be able to move on. The anger might be able to go a bit. It’s been a long, long journey.”
Jimmy Fitzpatrick was badly injured in the fire, losing some of the use of his hands. He said the event was “very nice, very dignified and the songs were lovely. Hopefully this will be the last one before justice.”
Antoinette Keegan, who survived the blaze but lost her sisters Mary (19) and Martina (16) and who organised Saturday’s vigil, said it was “beautiful” to see “all the families joining together”.
“We will never forget what happened here but today there is a positive feeling. We have a superb legal team and it’s onwards now.”