seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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The Stardust Nightclub Fire

stardust-ballroom-artaneThe Stardust nightclub in Artane, Dublin goes up in flames in the early hours of February 14, 1981. Some 841 people had attended a disco there, of whom 48 die and 214 are injured as a result of the fire.

The fire starts due to an electrical fault in a first floor store room inside the building that is open to the roof space. The non-compliant storage room contains dangerously flammable materials including drums of cooking oil. The staff observes a small fire outbreak on a seat in an alcove behind a curtain and fail in an attempt to extinguish it. This fire apparently starts after fire in the roof space comes through the roof tiles and falls onto the seat. The fire then spreads to tables and chairs and patrons notice smoke. The disc jockey announces that there is a small fire and requests a calm evacuation.

Outside, the fire is first spotted by a lady 200 metres from the Stardust and she calls the Dublin Fire Brigade. Within the same minute of her call, two other calls are made from the Stardust building to tell the Fire Brigade that there is a small fire on a seat in the ballroom. The fire is very small when first seen in the ballroom. Within two minutes a ferocious burst of heat and lots of thick black smoke quickly start 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 flashover envelopes the club and the lights fail.

The attendees at a trade union function taking place in the same building make their escape but the escape of some of the Stardust patrons is hampered by a number of obstructions. Some of the main fire exits are padlocked around the push bars and consequently are impossible to open.

The failure of the lighting in the club leads to widespread panic causing mass trampling as many of the patrons instinctively run for the main entrance. Many people mistake the entrance to the men’s toilets for the main entrance doors but the windows there have metal plates fixed on the inside and iron bars on the outside. Firemen attempt in vain to pull off the metal bars using a chain attached to a fire engine. Firemen rescue 25 to 30 of those trapped in the front toilets.

Ambulances from Dublin Fire Brigade, the Eastern Health Board, Civil Defence Ireland, the Irish Red Cross, the Order of Malta Ambulance Corps and St. John Ambulance Ireland are dispatched to the scene. Many ambulances leave the scene carrying up to 15 casualties. CIÉ also sends buses to transport the injured, and local radio stations ask people in the vicinity with cars to come to the club. The city’s hospitals are overwhelmed by the influx of injured and dying, in particular Mater Misericordiae University Hospital, Jervis Street Hospital and Dr. Steevens’ Hospitals.

The investigation at the time reports that the cause of the fire is 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.

There are allegations of a huge cover-up as to the cause of so many fatalities. There is a meeting before the public inquiry in 1981 of all of the experts including the Judge when the concept of arson is determined to be the cause to protect the Dublin Corporation from having to pay out millions in compensation to the victims and families. The Coolock Garda investigation is excellent but the Tribunal distorts the evidence. The Inquiry Report and the team of experts and coached witnesses conspire to conceal the truth and determine arson to be the cause without any evidence.

The club was located where Butterly Business Park now lies, opposite Artane Castle Shopping Centre.


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Birth of Crime Reporter Veronica Guerin

Veronica Guerin, Irish crime reporter, is born in Artane, Dublin, on July 5, 1958. Guerin attends Catholic school where she excels in athletics and later studies accountancy at Trinity College, Dublin. She plays for both the Ireland women’s national basketball team and Republic of Ireland women’s national football team, representing the latter in a match against England at Dalymount Park in May 1981.

After she graduates, her father employs her at his company but, following his death three years later, she changes professions and starts a public relations firm in 1983, which she runs for seven years. In 1983–84, she serves as secretary to the Fianna Fáil group at the New Ireland Forum. She serves as Charles Haughey‘s personal assistant, and becomes a family friend, taking holidays with his children. In 1987 she serves as election agent and party treasurer in Dublin North for Seán Haughey.

In 1990, she changes careers again, switching to journalism as a reporter with The Sunday Business Post and Sunday Tribune, working under editor Damien Kiberd. Craving first-hand information, she pursues a story directly to the source with little regard for her personal safety, to engage those she deems central to a story. This allows her to build close relationships with both the legitimate authorities, such as the Garda Síochána, and the criminals, with both sides respecting her diligence by providing highly detailed information. She also reports on Irish Republican Army activities in the Republic of Ireland.

From 1994 onwards, she begins to write about criminals for the Sunday Independent. Using her accountancy knowledge to trace the proceeds of illegal activity, she uses street names or pseudonyms for organized crime figures to avoid Irish libel laws.

When she begins to cover drug dealers, and gains information from convicted drugs criminal John Traynor, she receives numerous death threats. The first violence against her occurs in October 1994, when two shots are fired into her home after her story on murdered crime kingpin Martin Cahill is published. Guerin dismisses the “warning.” The day after writing an article on Gerry “The Monk” Hutch, on January 30, 1995, she answers her doorbell to a man pointing a revolver at her head. The gunman misses and shoots her in the leg. Regardless, she vows to continue her investigations.

On September 13, 1995, convicted criminal John Gilligan, Traynor’s boss, attacks her when she confronts him about his lavish lifestyle with no source of income. He later calls her at home and threatens to kidnap and rape her son, and kill her if she writes anything about him.

On the evening of June 25, 1996, Gilligan drug gang members Charles Bowden, Brian Meehan, Kieran ‘Muscles’ Concannon, Peter Mitchell and Paul Ward meet at their distribution premises on the Greenmount Industrial Estate. The following day, while driving her red Opel Calibra, Guerin stops at a red traffic light on the Naas Dual Carriageway near Newlands Cross, on the outskirts of Dublin, unaware she is being followed. She is shot six times, fatally, by one of two men sitting on a motorcycle.

About an hour after Guerin is murdered, a meeting takes place in Moore Street, Dublin, between Bowden, Meehan, and Mitchell. Bowden later denies under oath in court that the purpose of the meeting is the disposal of the weapon but rather that it was an excuse to appear in a public setting to place them away from the incident.

At the time of her murder, Traynor is seeking a High Court order against Guerin to prevent her from publishing a book about his involvement in organised crime. Guerin is killed two days before she is due to speak at a Freedom Forum conference in London.

Guerin’s funeral is attended by Ireland’s Taoiseach John Bruton, and the head of the armed forces. It is covered live by Raidió Teilifís Éireann. On July 4, labour unions across Ireland call for a moment of silence in her memory, which is duly observed by people around the country. Guerin is buried in Dardistown Cemetery, County Dublin.