A major fire 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 and Lidls store now lies, opposite Artane Castle Shopping Centre .It was said the fire started on a balcony inside the building, although it was suggested that the fire derived from an electrical fault in the roof space. 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 torrent 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. No alarm sounded and no emergency lights came on. 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.
Ambulances from Dublin fire brigade Eastern Health Board, Dublin Civil Defence, the Red Cross and other organizations were dispatched to the scene. 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 investigation at the time reported that the fire was 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.
While the owners, the Butterly family, were compensated (€761,000) no such compensation was offered to the victims or their families. Their response was to set up the Stardust Victims Committee and campaign for justice and proper compensation. It took five years of campaigning by this group to force the government to set up a compensation scheme and victims got “compensated” on the condition that all further claims against defendants (including the Butterlys) would be waived.Today the families are still fighting for justice for their loved oneNo one has been charged in relation to the Stardust disaster. No cause of the fire has been established. No one has apologised to the families. It continues to cast a long shadow over the working-class communities of Artane, Coolock, Donnycarney and Kilmore in north Dublin from where the young people who lost their lives came from.
Looking at the reports of injuries during a crush in Copper Jacks night club last week I cannot help but wonder how easy it is for a tragedy to happen again and would our overstretched fire service be able to cope with such a catastrophe.