Stardust inquests ‘about to enter into a very different stage of proceedings’ - Coroner

Dublin coroner Dr Myra Cullinane described the tragic fire as ‘the most serious loss of life in one incident of this type in the history of the State’

The scope of the Stardust inquests, which begin hearing evidence on Wednesday, will be broader than other inquests, and must establish not only the immediate causes of the 48 deaths, but the circumstances around them, Dublin coroner Dr Myra Cullinane has said.

Addressing the 15-member jury on Tuesday, she said while at inquests “generally” the question of “how” a person died was answered with the medical cause, in this case “there will be detailed examination of the circumstances surrounding the deaths”.

“And it is these circumstances, about which you will be hearing evidence, that you will have to consider to what extent they contributed to the cause of death before reaching your verdict in each case,” she said.

Following four weeks during which the jury of seven woman and eight men heard 48 pen portraits of each those who died in the inferno that engulfed the Stardust nightclub in Artane, in the early hours of the 14th February 1981, Dr Cullinane said the inquests were “about to enter into a very different stage of proceedings.”


The pen-portraits had not been formal evidence, she said. This would begin on Wednesday and Dr Culliane, formally opening the inquests on Tuesday, read the names the dead into the record.

Describing the disaster as “the most serious loss of life in one incident of this type in the history of the State” – though the toll is matched by that of a fire in a temporary cinema in Drumcollogher, Co Limerick in 1926 – Dr Cullinane said the Stardust had “left an indelible mark on the suburb of Artane and the surrounding areas where the majority of the deceased lived. The families had “borne a very heavy burden of grief,” she said.

An inquest was a “fact finding exercise” and was “not to apportion guilt” or to exonerate any person or body. The jury’s verdicts in each of these 48 inquests should, however, reflect the manner in which the deaths occurred.

Under consideration would be staff training and fire planning at the venue; where and how the fire started and why and how it progressed; the immediate response to the outbreak; and, response of emergency services.

Other factors to examine were the condition of the building, the fixtures, fittings, installations, safety and escape measures, caused or contributed to the start of the fire and the deaths.

On Wednesday Dr Cullinane’s counsel will outline the “indisputable facts” to the jury, including information about the Stardust building which had been open three years in 1981, accommodating three venues – the Lantern Rooms function room; the Silver Swan bar and the Stardust ballroom. Details relating to the Stardust’s location; its external and internal structure; internal layout; fittings; the positions of exits; fire inspections; ownership and management would also be outlined.

Over 300 witnesses’ evidence would be heard, from June 7th, though not all witnesses will give evidence in person as some have died, are ill or cannot be located. Their depositions would be read into the record.

Witnesses will be heard in order, to recount the events chronologically, she said – first staff and management, followed by patrons and members of the public who were in the area on the night, then emergency services, followed by expert witnesses engaged by the inquest and by bereaved families.

The inquests will sit Tuesdays to Fridays, rising for late July and August, and are expected to last until the end of the year.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times