A 17-year-old had a vision of his premature death just three weeks before his life was ended in the Stardust nightclub fire, the inquest has heard.
The Stardust fire claimed the lives of 48 young people when flames consumed the nightclub in Artane in the early hours of February 14th, 1981, and the jury at the Dublin District Coroner's Court on Thursday listened to pen portraits of victims, Robert Kelly and Robert ‘Bobby’ Hillick.
Antoinette Keegan told the inquest, which is taking place in the Pillar Room of the Rotunda Hospital, that she was reading a pen portrait of Robert Kelly (17) in honour of Robert’s late brother Eugene, who was a dear friend of hers for over two decades.
“As a child, Robert was a beautiful lad. He was a bit of a character in a lot of ways and one way was how he came to be called Spikey Kelly. He nicknamed himself Spiky, because of his hair, as it used to be very spiky,” she said.
“Everyone loved Robert, and he loved everyone, but he had one person that he particularly loved and adored and that was his mammy. The love Robert had for his mammy was unconditional love.”
Antoinette said that the last time Robert was seen alive was at the Stardust. He was with his friends laughing and joking when they noticed the fire.
“There was huge panic with people trying to get out. It was like a horror scene from a movie, but it was real,” she said.
Robert was later confirmed as having been killed in the fire and identified by dental records.
“Eugene told me that, just three weeks before Robert was killed in the Stardust, Robert was lying on his bed and had an out-of-body experience.
"He could see himself dying and said: ‘I am going to die young. I am not afraid of death’. Eugene said Robert spoke about this right up to the night of the Stardust,” said Antoinette.
“After Robert’s funeral, the Kelly family were never the same again. They could not accept they would never see Robert again, and as he lay in a closed coffin, they were told to remember him as he was.”
A further pen portrait of Robert was delivered by his niece, Mandy Kelly, daughter of the late Eugene.
“I was 13 months old when Robert died in the Stardust fire. He wasn’t just my uncle, he was my godfather.
"I never got to know him but since I was a child, I grew up hearing stories about him and always remember there was a framed photo on the wall in our house of Robert. I was always told he was my godfather and was always watching over me and protecting me,” Mandy said.
She said that, sadly, she never got to know her godfather, except through other people’s memories and stories of him.
“As a young child, I remember my father always depressed and always crying, and I was too young to understand why a strong grown man was crying. My father eventually got so depressed he couldn’t get out of this depressed state and decided to end his own life. He said he just couldn’t live with the pain any longer. He had a nervous breakdown and was hospitalised for two weeks,” she said.
Mandy said her father “was like a lost child that never grew up.” He passed away in 2020 from a heart attack, which Mandy said she believed was “a broken heart”.
“I believe he couldn’t take all the pressure and stress of the Stardust. He chose to just go to heaven to be with Robert,” Mandy said.
The inquest also heard the pen portrait of Robert ‘Bobby’ Hillick, which was written by his brother, Bill, and delivered by journalist Charlie Bird, who said that Bill passed away before this portrait could be shared. Bobby grew up in Belfast and lived at home with his mother and older brother, Bill.
“As we grew up, Bobby would always have got the upper hand.
"I had many black eyes and bloody noses from him when we fell out. We were very close and just doing as young boys do. My mother would have heard us fighting in the bedroom and come to hit us over the head with her slipper to stop us.
"We loved each other and this was just a part of growing up,” Bill said.
Bill described Bobby as a hard-working man who went to Dublin to work on a building site. Then the Stardust fire happened.
“It wasn’t until the next day that we went down to identify the body, and we could not believe that this was happening to our family. Bobby’s death really took its toll on me, and I went to England for many years to try and block out that it had happened,” said Bill.
“At first, we thought the fire was a freak accident and the deaths were unavoidable, but then we heard some troubling details about what happened that night as the inquest played out, which made the whole thing much more difficult to deal with,” he said.
“It is so sad that his life was taken when he was so young. Like any other young man, Bobby had his whole life ahead of him until it was cut short. Bobby’s death devastated our family,” he concluded.