Stardust fire haunted Christine Keegan ‘for rest of her life’, funeral told

Campaigner lost her two daughters in the 1981 blaze

The Stardust fire tragedy haunted campaigner Christine Keegan "for the rest of her life", her funeral has heard.

Ms Keegan lost her daughters Mary (19) and Martina (16) in the fire at the nightclub in Artane on February 14th, 1981 – the worst fire disaster in the history of the State.

Ms Keegan died earlier this week, aged 84. Her funeral took place at St Joseph the Artisan Catholic Church in north Dublin on Saturday morning.

By 9.45am, there were about 100 mourners waiting in the grounds of the church for the funeral cortege to arrive. When, just before 10am, the hearse pulled slowly in, it was followed by about 25 of Ms Keegan’s family and close friends.

Eight pallbearers, all dressed in matching sharp black suits, lifted the coffin from the hearse, on to their shoulders, and carried it inside for the funeral mass.

After the funeral cortege entered the church, the door was shut and a sign reading “full” was hung on the handles, with attendance strictly limited due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The rest of the mourners waited patiently outside for the 50 minute service to conclude.

Fr Joe Jones told the congregation Ms Keegan's late husband John, who passed away 34 years ago, was "the love of her life" and they are "reunited once again".

“We know too the heartache they both suffered in losing their two lovely daughters Mary and Martina in the Stardust fire, an event that would haunt her for the rest of her life,” Fr Jones said.

“An event that would tear not only her family but the many other families, tear them apart, destroying the peace that they should have known but were unable to achieve because of the lack of justice for the victims and the 48 people whose lives were taken so tragically on that fateful night 39 years ago.

“Throughout the years Chrissie fought for justice, and she vowed never to give up, and she never did. Each time I visited her with Communion it was always the topic of conversation between the two of us, and she always said ‘I will never give up’.”

Fr Jones said in the short years he had come to know Ms Keegan she was always a “funny, witty person” who did much for her family, friends and neighbours.

“She was tireless in her efforts to create benefit nights and do good for charities that were close to her heart. She was a good neighbour, caring and thoughtful, sharing her recipe for a good stew with the neighbours who are also grieving the loss of loved ones as well,” he said

Fr Jones said Ms Keegan is “finally at peace” with her daughters, husband and other family members.

“I’ve no doubt that each of them greeted her with the words ‘well done good and faithful servant for all the work you have done throughout the years in attempting to bring justice into one of the most darkest moments in the history of our country’,” he added.

Ms Keegan's daughter Lorraine said her mother was "the best mother any of us could have asked for".

“She was an amazing mother, grandmother and great grandmother. When children were around her, her eyes lit up,” she said.

“All I can say is heaven is going to have a great woman. She is up there now with my Dad, Mary, Martina and Millie-Ruby so she gets to be a mother again to her beautiful daughters and a grandmother again to Millie-Ruby.”

Ms Keegan said her mother will be missed by her family and friends and that she was “very witty and had a fantastic sense of humour”.

“We would ask Ma ‘are you having a whiskey’ and she would say ‘yeah it will make me frisky’.

Another great quote from Mam, when she cracked a joke and people laughed she would say ‘stick around you ain’t seen nothing yet’.”

President Michael D Higgins was represented at the funeral by his aide-de-camp Lieut Col Stephen Howard and Taoiseach Micheál Martin was represented by his aide-de-camp Cdr Caroline Burke.

A number of items were laid out on a table in front of the altar to represent Ms Keegan, including a Liverpool blanket; trophies she was awarded over the years; a copy of the Northside People, which she often featured in; an Aldi magazine; a book on the Stardust tragedy; and a candle to St Martha.

“The table is draped in a Liverpool blanket reminding us that you’ll never walk alone, and indeed through the years we know that she never did walk alone, there were many people who walked with her,” Fr Jones said.

After the funeral members of Dublin City Fire Brigade lined up at the entrance of the church as the coffin was carried out. Young members of Ms Keegan’s family were visibly emotional as You’ll Never Walk Alone by Gerry and the Pacemakers was played on speakers in the grounds.

The pallbearers took a moment - standing together, arms around each other, in front of the back of the hearse - after placing it inside. The assembled crowd then moved in to embrace the family.

Three units of Dublin City Brigade accompanied the hearse and funeral cortege as it left the church grounds and made the short journey around the corner to Greencastle Crescent where Ms Keegan lived.

As it approached, members of the estate stood at their front doors and looked on in respectful silence. Outside Ms Keegan’s home, about 100 people lined both sides of the street. Many of them, mostly young children, held red balloons.

The hearse made a final stop outside the house, at which point the balloons were released and filled the morning sky as all in attendance burst into applause.

After a few moments, the cortege moved on to bury Ms Keegan’s remains in the church’s adjoining cemetery. As the three units of Dublin Fire Brigade followed some moments later, the crowd burst into applause again.

Ms Keegan is survived by her children Antoinette, John, Lorraine, Suzanne, Neville and Damien.

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson is an Irish Times reporter