Veteran journalist Charlie Bird described as his “heroes” the Stardust fire victims’ families who gathered on Sunday to commemorate the 41st anniversary of the tragedy.
Although his familiar voice has weakened considerably in the aftermath of his recent diagnosis of motor neurone disease, Mr Bird used new software technology which has created what he describes as a “voice bank” in public for the first time.
“I admire your courage and your bravery. Keep fighting for justice. If the Stardust tragedy happened in some middle class area, or indeed on the southside of Dublin, we would not be here today still trying to find out what happened on that dreadful, cold February night,” he said.
In the early hours of February 14th, 1981, a blaze engulfed the Stardust ballroom in Artane, resulting in the deaths of 48 people.
At the vigil on Sunday to remember those who died, the families spoke about their continued grief and fight for justice in the years since the disaster.
Some of the attendees wore face masks with the number 48 on them, and the word ‘truth’, while the family of each person who died was presented with a candle featuring their loved one’s name.
Portraits of the victims hung on the wall of the building that now sits on the site of the blaze, while a banner was unveiled to remember them.
Addressing the crowd, Maurice McHugh, who lost his only daughter Caroline, said that 41 years later, the families are “still climbing the hill for justice”.
“I’m going to light this candle, and with this flame, may the light provide us with truth and justice. That’s what we’ll have in the future. Very, very soon,” he said.
Samantha Mangan, who was four when her mother Helena died in the fire, said: “She was my whole world. I went everywhere with her. My mam was only 17 when she had me and back in ’76 that was a big ‘no no’, but from what I’ve heard from her friends and family, she walked and held her head high because she was proud to be my mum.”
“I’m really proud to be her daughter but it’s just really sad that we didn’t get to be more. One of her friends told me that she was excited for us to be best friends and we didn’t get that. It was taken away.”
In November 1981, a tribunal of inquiry into the disaster concluded the fire was probably caused by arson and effectively exonerated the owners of the nightclub.
It was disputed by survivors and victims’ families, who have campaigned for a new inquest ever since.
Fresh inquests into the deaths were ordered by then attorney general Séamus Woulfe in September 2019.
A preliminary inquests hearing took place in Dublin earlier this month.
Antoinette Keegan, chairwoman of the Stardust Victim’s Committee, whose sisters Mary and Martina died in the fire, said those affected by the tragedy are feeling a “bit more positive” that they will find out the truth.
“We have the venue [for the inquiry], the two other issues that are outstanding now is the selection of the jury and the jury payment. They need to be addressed as soon as possible in order for us to move forward,”she said.
“We have people behind us. Ireland is behind us. The world is behind us. We need to get closure. We need to find out what really happened.”