Let our loved ones rest in peace, families tell Stardust inquest

48 people died when a fire broke out in the Stardust Ballroom in Artane in the early hours of February 14, 1981.
Let our loved ones rest in peace, families tell Stardust inquest

Ryan Dunne

Relatives of those killed in the Stardust Ballroom fire have called for an end to the four decades of uncertainty they have had to endure over the circumstances of the tragedy, saying they hope the current inquest will allow the victims to finally rest in peace.

Forty-eight people died when a fire broke out in the Stardust nightclub in Artane in the early hours of February 14th, 1981.

Pen portraits of the deceased are being delivered during the preliminary stage of the inquest that is currently taking place in the Pillar Room of the Rotunda Hospital.

A pen portrait of Richard Bennett (17), written by Richard’s mother, Helen, and sister, Elaine, was read out by the family's representative, singer Christy Moore.

“Losing a son is the worst thing imaginable, especially under such tragic and public circumstances,” said Helen.

She said Richard was very mature for his 17 years, as he looked older and acted older than he was probably because he had to grow up fast. Following the break-up of Helen’s marriage to her first husband, Richard left school at 15 of his own accord to go out to work and provide for his mother and siblings.

“Richard was the main breadwinner in the household after that. He stepped into the role and became the father figure to his younger brothers and sister. One of Richard’s jobs was to install fire extinguishers, ironically,” she said.

“Richard was so excited to go to the Stardust that night. He wasn’t a big drinker, so I knew I didn’t have to worry about him getting drunk and falling while coming home.”

She said that her husband Bill was coming home from work and saw the smoke at the Stardust.

“What Bill saw that night never left him. Bill searched the hospitals and Dublin city morgue for weeks. I went into complete shock and refused admittance to hospital. I couldn’t leave my other children. Eventually, weeks later I found out there was a body that was presumed to be Richard’s.

"It was then that he became one of the unidentified. For years that’s how those children were spoken of in the media and in all correspondence – they lost their identity that night.”

She went on to say that when people talk of Richard, they light up.

“He really was an angel in disguise,” she said, adding that she will grieve for Richard until the day she closes her eyes. She said that it is heart-breaking to think that in 40 years families are all still searching for answers.

“This needs to stop now. We need to know what happened to our loved ones. We need justice for our children so they can finally rest,” Helen concluded.

The brother of Michael Griffiths, who was 18 when he died in the fire, voiced his hope that the current inquest will allow the engraving on Michael’s headstone to truly mean “rest in peace”.

The pen portrait of Michael, written by Michael’s brother, Paul, was read out by family friend, Jimmy Fitzpatrick, who was present in the Stardust that night.

“Michael was a very happy, outgoing person, with a great love of family. He was someone you could rely on,” said Paul.

Paul said that you never had to ask whether Michael was home, because you could hear him, either laughing or playing music. He said that Michael had a great work ethic and a generous nature.

“When he was 16 and got his first pay cheque, instead of spending it on himself, he took us all to the cinema,” said Paul.

“My last memory of him was after celebrating our father’s 34th birthday. He came down the stairs ready for a night out in the Stardust for Valentine’s. He said goodbye and walked out the door. The next thing I remember is being woken up in the early hours of the morning by the sound of the front door being banged, and my sister, who was also in the Stardust, her face blackened by smoke, screaming about a fire at the club, and she couldn’t find Michael.”

Paul said that his parents went to the Stardust, where they found “utter carnage” and were kept away by the fire service. They could not find Michael and were told to check the hospitals, but to no avail.

They were then told to check the morgue, and with great reluctance that is what they did, where they discovered that Michael had died. They had to identify him by a ring he was wearing.

“It became a time for us of firsts: the first of our family to die; the first time I saw my mother truly grief stricken; the first time I saw my father cry; Michael’s first birthday since his death; the first family photographs without him; the first anniversary of Michael’s death,” he said.

He concluded by saying: “After another inquest, let us hope the engraving on his headstone can truly mean rest in peace.”

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