The daughter of one of the victims of the Stardust fire has told the inquest that the loss of her mother at such a young age has left her feeling like “a four-and-a-half-year-old child trapped” in the body of a woman.
Samantha Mangan told the inquest taking place before the Dublin District Coroner’s Court that for years she would pretend her mother Helena was still alive and had lost her memory after getting out of the fire, which killed 48 people when it swept through the Stardust nightclub on February 14th, 1981.
Samantha said that throughout her teenage years, she would scan the streets trying to pick her out, and any time she heard someone saying the name ‘Helena’ she would turn around expecting it to be her mother.
Delivering a pen portrait of Helena, Samantha described her mother as a kind, caring, brave and strong woman with a funny, dry sense of humour. She loved to bake and there was always a lovely smell of freshly baked cakes in the house. Samantha was only four and a half years old when Helena died.
“On February 13th, 1981, I remember watching my mam get ready for a night filled with friendship, fun, dancing. I never thought, as I watched her blow-dry her hair and put on her best clothes, that that would be the last time I’d smell her smell or hug and kiss her. If I’d known, I would never have let her go,” said Samantha.
She said that when she woke the next morning, she climbed up into the top bunk to get in beside Helena for a kiss and cuddle, but she was not there, and her bed had not even been slept in.
“As I made my way down the stairs, I could sense something was wrong, I couldn’t find my mammy and there were sounds of crying, and I didn’t know why. I waited for my mammy to come home, I sat on the stairs and looked at all the people coming in, but she never came home. I was just sitting there waiting and wondering where she had gone, because my mammy would never leave me,” said Samantha.
She said that life has been so hard without her mother, who was “my world, my everything”.
“1981 was the start of my big adventure in the world, to start school. I was going to be a big girl, my mammy told me, and she told me not to worry as she would be there for me on my first day at school. But on my first day at school, she was not there.
As I sat there watching all the other girls crying because they didn’t want their mammies to leave them, I sat there praying that my mammy would come bursting through the door and give me a kiss and a hug and tell me how brave I was.”
Samantha said that as time passed, she would pretend Helena was still alive and had lost her memory after getting out of the fire. She said that throughout her teenage years, she would scan the streets trying to pick her out.
“If I heard someone calling a person with the same name, I would turn round and hope it was my mammy Helena, but it never was,” she said.
She revealed that she got married on what would have been her mother’s 50th birthday as she hoped Helena would turn up and walk her down the aisle. She said that she misses her so much that she feels there is a huge piece of herself missing.
“I read the coroner’s report in 2019 and wasn’t prepared to read that parts of her were missing, there was no mention as to where her missing parts were. This threw me into a dark place, a place I am still trying to crawl out of. I really thought I was strong, but it broke me to read that,” she said.
“You see a 46-year-old woman, but to me, I am a four-and-a-half-year-old child trapped in this body, stuck in time on the inside while ageing on the outside. Why hasn’t there been justice for her and 47 others?” Samantha concluded.