Irish Daily Star

A night of excitement that turned into terror

- ■■Michael O’TOOLE Crime and Defence Editor

IT WAS a night they had been looking forward to for weeks.

On the evening of Friday, February 13, 1981 hundreds of young people said goodbye to their loved ones and walked with hope and excitement towards a night of fun, dancing and maybe something more.

The kids filed through the doors of one of Ireland’s best known nightclubs when it opened for a special Valentine’s disco.

Little did the young people know that every one of them who went into the Stardust club in Artane, north Dublin was about to be plunged into a nightmare.

It was a nightmare from which 48 of them would not emerge – and which those who were lucky to survive would still struggle to come to terms with more than 43 years later.

The Stardust opened its doors at exactly 10pm for the Valentine’s disco. Kids came from all over the northside and beyond and by the time the club closed its doors two hours later some 841 young people were inside.

The place was thronged and by 1am the bars had closed, but still the kids danced.

Thirty minutes later a dance competitio­n had just ended when some of the patrons began to feel uncomforta­ble with the heat.

Then, at 1.40am, they began to smell smoke a few moments before someone noticed a small fire in the west alcove of the sprawling site.

Within a minute the fire had begun to take hold, especially in the bar’s seating area.

At 1.43 am the first 999 call was made from inside Stardust, but within one minute the blaze was so vicious that it had reached the ceiling of the bar area, forcing it to collapse.


It was a full-blown emergency now and the complex was engulfed by a thick black smoke as terrified revellers tried to escape what had quickly become a horrific inferno.

Fire tenders and ambulances from all over Dublin – even the airport – sped to the scene as a massive emergency response kicked in.

Young men and women rushed to get out through the emergency exits, but many of them were inaccessib­le – either padlocked or blocked by tables and other obstacles.

Desperate people ran in different directions as they franticall­y searched for a way out of the building, now engulfed in flames.

Fire engines were on the scene at 1.51am – eight minutes after the first 999 call was made, but by then it was already too late for many of the revellers.

They had died in the crush to get out of the building and firefighte­rs began to find bodies as soon as they accessed the site.

Others survived, but suffered serious injuries. There was a massive effort to get the victims to hospital – with buses and even cars being requisitio­ned to act as emergency ambulances to get the survivors to hospitals all over the city.

It was a time before mobiles, the internet and rolling news and it was not until the following morning, February 14, that the nation realised the full horror of the events.

It would cost the lives of some 48 young people, aged between 16 and 27.

A further 214 were injured, scars which in many cases last to this day.

The nation was convulsed by the tragedy and then Taoiseach Charles Haughey ordered a tribunal of inquiry.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland