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||This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (February 2011)|
The original entrance to the Stardust Nightclub
|Location||Artane, Dublin, Ireland|
|Date||14 February 1981|
The Stardust fire was a fatal fire which took place at the Stardust nightclub in Artane, Dublin, Ireland in the early hours of 14 February 1981. Some 841 people had attended a disco there, of whom 48 died and 214 were injured as a result of the fire. The club was located where Butterly Business Park now lies, opposite Artane Castle Shopping Centre.
The fire was said to have started on a balcony inside the building, although since the tragedy some evidence has suggested that the fire derived from an electrical fault in the roof space, next to a storage room containing dangerously flammable materials. Staff attempted to extinguish it and failed; they then tried to contain it by closing the door leading to the balcony and ordering the users of a private room to evacuate. Guests in other parts of the nightclub were not informed, nor was an alarm sounded.
The fire was first spotted in a seating area in the west section of the building, although the fire was only very small when first seen, a ferocious burst of heat and lots of thick black smoke quickly started coming from the ceiling, causing the material in the ceiling to melt and drip on top of patrons and other highly flammable materials including the seats and carpet tiles on the walls. The fire quickly spread into the main area of the club causing the lights to fail. This caused mass panic as patrons began desperately looking for an escape.
The attendees at both the disco and a trade union function taking place in the same building tried to make their escape but were hampered by a number of obstructions. Some of the main fire exits turned out to be locked with padlocks and chains. Other fire exits simply had chains draped about the push bars.
The failure of the lighting in the club led to widespread panic causing mass trampling as many of the patrons instinctively ran for the main entrance. Many people mistook the entrance to the men's toilets for the main entrance doors but the windows there had metal plates fixed on the inside and iron bars on the outside. Firemen attempted in vain to pull off the metal bars using a chain attached to a fire engine. Firemen rescued between 25-30 of those trapped in the front toilets. Seven people died in the toilets at the other side of the building while the Dublin Fire Brigade were attempting to rescue them.
Many of those who had made it to safety became increasingly aggressive from knowing that their friends were still trapped inside, some taking their anger out on emergency services: at one point a fireman searching for a hydrant down the street was thought to be fleeing the fire and was assaulted by bystanders.
Ambulances from Dublin Fire Brigade, the Eastern Health Board, Dublin Civil Defence, the Red Cross and other organizations were dispatched to the scene. Many left the scene carrying up to 15 casualties. CIE also sent buses to transport the injured, and local radio stations asked people in the vicinity with cars to come to the club. The city's hospitals were overwhelmed by the influx of wounded and dying, in particular the Mater, Jervis Street and Dr Steevens' Hospitals.
The investigation at the time reported that the fire was an arson. The finding of arson has recently been ruled out by investigators, as there was never any evidence to support the "arson" finding, even at the time of the tragedy.
A total of 48 people died in the fire. The community, with most of the dead coming from Artane, Kilmore and greater Coolock, was devastated, with many people being affected in some way. A tribunal of inquiry under Mr. Justice Ronan Keane concluded in November 1981 that the fire was probably caused by arson. This finding, which has been disputed ever since, legally exonerated the owners from responsibility. However, the inquiry was damning in its criticism of the safety standards. See below for more on factual disputes.
The families of the victims and survivors fought in the courts for compensation, accountability, and, in their eyes, justice. The owners, the Butterly family, were nevertheless free to pursue their own claim for compensation against the city because of the arson finding - and were eventually awarded IR£580,000.
The aftermath led to a huge number of recommendations being made in relation to fire safety. Comparisons were made to the Summerland disaster of 1973 in the Isle of Man and the lessons learned in that jurisdiction. However, some basic rules, such as the provision of fire extinguishers and fire exits being left unblocked and obviously posted, which have since been implemented, could probably have prevented many deaths if they had existed at the time.
In 2006 the leaseholder and manager of the Stardust at the time of the fire, Eamon Butterly, planned to re-open licensed premises on the site of the Stardust on the 25th anniversary. Described as "insensitive", this action occasioned protests by the victims' families and their supporters. The protests lasted for 10 weeks and ended when the Butterly family agreed to erect a memorial on the site, and change the name of the pub from "The Silver Swan" to the "Artane House". In 2007, the bodies of five victims whom authorities had been unable to identify were exhumed from a communal plot in St. Fintan's Cemetery, Sutton. The remains were identified with modern DNA analysis, and then given separate burials.
In July 1985, Irish folk singer Christy Moore was found guilty of contempt of court after writing and releasing a song, entitled They Never Came Home, about the plight of the Stardust fire victims, seemingly damning the owners of the nightclub and the government. It contained the following lines:
Because it appeared to imply that the obstruction of the exits was solely responsible for the deaths and injuries, the song was banned and removed from the Ordinary Man album it had appeared on. As the album had just been released, it had to be withdrawn from circulation and re-issued with Another Song is Born in its place. Early versions of this album are considered rare and collectible.
This song was played for 10 weeks outside the "Silver Swan" as part of the protest over the re-opening of the pub in 2006. It was played every night from 6PM until 8PM whilst the families and supporters demonstrated in front of the filling station. The song was reputedly played for so long that three tapes failed, leading the protesters to use a CD player, which failed after eight days. They then resorted to an MP3 player (connected to an amplifier), which lasted for the duration of the protest before failing a week later.
In 2006, Ireland's national broadcaster, Radio Telefís Éireann (RTÉ), caused controversy by producing a docu-drama about the disaster entitled Stardust, to mark the 25th anniversary of the incident. The series was based on the book They Never Came Home: The Stardust Story by Neil Fetherstonhaugh and Tony McCullagh. Many families of victims objected to this and were upset by the painful memories it brought up. Reasons for objection were the focus on some key families, which some felt portrayed the disaster as only really impacting a select few, the depiction of the actual fire and a silent roll call of all the victims who perished. A preview of this drama was shown to relatives in early February 2006 and after some minor changes it was broadcast on 12 and 13 February 2006. Those changes include: The silent roll call being changes to one were all names were read out by survivor Jimmy Fitzpatrick and a voice-over being used to explain throughout the narrative that this impacted a lot more families and individuals than those portrayed predominantly in the film.
An edition of Prime Time, RTÉ's current affairs programme, broadcast on 14 February 2006, cast doubts on some of the findings of the original tribunal. The programme produced witnesses who were outside the building on the night. Some outside saw fire coming from the roof up to eight minutes before those inside did. New evidence concerning the building's contents and layout was also presented. Important details were also shown regarding the actual location of a store room containing flammable materials and cleaning agents. The document plan of the building which the tribunal used, and which was critical to its findings, was shown to be confusingly flawed by locating the store room on the wrong level. It showed the store room to be "near the basement" When in fact there was no basement in the building and the store and lamp rooms were located in the roof space.
The list of contents of the store was not put before the inquiry and included large amounts of highly flammable and spontaneously combustible materials, mostly polishes and floor waxes, with the inquiry assuming only normal everyday items were inside.
A re-enactment of the fire suggested that it did not happen as the tribunal had found. The conclusions of the show were that the fire started in the roof space where the store room was located and had already spread across the main nightclub area before those inside were aware of it. Furthermore there were reports that the lamp room adjacent to the store had had several instances in preceding weeks of smouldering, smoking and sparking of the electrical installations within, which could conceivably have been the original ignition source. If this is true, the original finding of "probable arson" is in doubt.
Also if true, it mirrors events decades earlier in the fatal Henderson's Department Store Fire in Liverpool, where a fire strongly suspected as starting in electrical cabling rapidly spread in and across false ceiling space, hidden until it broke out ferociously across a large area.
On 14 November 2008, a second fire occurred at the same site, which had been used as a children's play centre. However, no-one was in the building at the time, and there have been no injuries reported. One woman, whose sisters were killed in the original blaze, is quoted as saying that she "froze", and that "a chill went up [her] spine. [She] got a flashback like the whole thing was coming down on top of [her]". Once the flames were extinguished, firefighters found cancer-causing asbestos hanging from the roof. The Gardai are currently probing the cause of the blaze. As of November 2010 the Gardai have still not announced the cause of the 2008 blaze, nor has anybody been charged.
Four relatives of those who had died in the fire held a "sit-in" in a security hut at Government Buildings. They were asking the government to publish a report that examined the need to open a new investigation into the disaster.
Following the above protests the Government commissioned an Independent Examination by Mr. Paul Coffey SC of the case submitted by the Stardust Victims Committee for a Reopened Inquiry into the Stardust Fire Disaster.
Due to the passage of time and lack of physical evidence it stated that it would not be in the public interest to re-open the Public Inquiry but that the public record should be altered to reflect paragraph 6.167 of the original inquiry- “The cause of fire is not known and may never be known. There is no evidence of an accidental origin: and equally no evidence that the fire was started deliberately”  instead of that of arson (which led to the Butterly's compensation)
Following its publication, the Dáil voted on the evening of 3 February 2009 to acknowledge that the arson finding was hypothetical and that none of those present at the Stardust nightclub can be held responsible for the blaze. This led to a correction of the public record and the original arson conclusion was removed as the cause due to there being no evidence to suggest that the fire was started maliciously.
Despite the clear breaches of fire safety regulations, the owners never faced charges and have never apologized.
On 31 January 2011, a documentary entitled Remembering Stardust: 30 Years On aired on TV3. The documentary reflected on the events of the night of the fire, the aftermath and the various controversies and legal proceedings that followed. Survivors Jimmy Fitzpatrick and Antoinette Keegan along with retired Dublin fireman Paul Shannon were among those interviewed.
On 13 February 2011, there was an afternoon mass at Saint Joseph's Church in Coolock and a wreath was placed at the Stardust Memorial Park. The following evening, a candlelight vigil was held in the Stardust grounds.