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Stardust verdicts: Families cried. Jurors cried. Lawyers cried.

After 43 years, families hear the two words they wanted - ‘unlawful killing’

Four long decades of never letting go. Finally, it was time. After the suffering and setback, the fury and fightback, this was the moment.

The Stardust families took a deep breath and waited for the verdict, one they prayed would bring vindication for their loved ones and justice they feared they might never see.

The tension was palpable.

Forty-three years of hope and heartache distilled down to a few seconds of strained silence.


“Foreman of the jury, I would ask you now to announce the verdict of the jury.”

Two words.

“Unlawful killing.”

A visceral roar went up. They jumped to their feet, cheering and laughing and embracing each other as the tears flowed, holding up photographs of the young men and women whose unnecessary deaths spurred them on in their quest for the truth.

It was like removing the valve from a giant pressure cooker. The sense of relief and release was overwhelming.

God, but it was so emotional. Deeply powerful, compelling scenes. Jurors cried. Lawyers cried. Staff from the coroner’s office cried. Journalists cried.

A few minutes before coroner Dr Myra Cullinane asked for that verdict – it would be the same for each of the 48 people who perished in the Valentine’s Day inferno in the Stardust nightclub in 1981 – an official tiptoed quietly around the Pillar Room distributing small packets of tissues.

They were very much needed.

Dr Cullinane asked the families to stay in their places for a few minutes so the legal process could be formally completed. Documents were signed to the sound of sniffles and happy shrieks while banners were carefully unfurled and phone messages tapped out with trembling fingers.

At 3pm, just under an hour before she commenced the final day of the longest inquest in the history of the State, the coroner brought proceedings to a close by thanking the jury.

“That concludes your formal role.”

There was an instant standing ovation for the jurors. Parents and siblings, nieces, nephews, partners and friends turned to them in heartfelt gratitude and applauded.

Peg Ffrench (85), whose 18-year-old son Michael never came home that night, was determined to join in. With the help of her daughter Margaret, she stood up out of her wheelchair and clapped the men and women who finally delivered justice for her eldest boy.

When the verdict was announced she quietly said “It’s over.”

“They will always be their babies. Look at him, he was so young and had his whole life ahead of him. Mammy always says we only have a lend of them,” said Margaret.

There were short speeches and more rounds of applause and words of thanks for people who participated in this long process.

The coroner hoped the families would take some solace from the inquest and then, one last time, remembered “the 48 young people who died on that fateful night”.

And everyone applauded and started crying again.

“All rise!”

At eight minutes past three in the afternoon, Myra Cullinane departed the bench which was on a dais in front of the backdrop of the Dublin city crest with its three burning castles and figures of Justice and Law.

The fire was a given but until this exemplary year-long hearing, some might say that Justice and Law were extremely late arrivals.

The coroner and the jurors left to more applause. And that was it.

After 43 years’ campaigning to clear the names of loved ones disgracefully traduced in the initial inquiry, to find the truth about how the fire really happened and to right the very obvious wrong done to them by a patronising establishment, they had succeeded.

Seated in the front row was Bridget McDermott, who lost three children in the fire – Willie, Marcella and George. She’s 87 now, but she made it into the Pillar Room of Dublin’s Rotunda to hear the verdict. She looked very stylish in her full-length camel coat with fur collar as she made her way inside with the aid of a rollator.

“When it happened Mam just said: ‘I can’t believe it. If I die in my bed tonight I’ll die a happy woman,’” said her daughter, Louise.

Michelle, Caroline and Joanne were there to support their mother, Patricia Kennedy, and their sister Marie, who was just 17 when she died.

“We got justice in the end,” said Patricia, who turned 82 last Sunday. “Many’s the time I thought that we wouldn’t get a result. It’s brilliant, just brilliant. Now, it would be nice if we could see another sort of justice for certain people.”

“Mammy tells it like it is,” said one of her daughters.

“I have two sons as well, six children altogether. Don’t forget Marie, she is the eldest. And I have himself at home as well. Edward, her daddy. He wouldn’t come in.”

Everyone held photographs, familiar images from down through the years. Grainy pictures of young ones and young fellas at the start of their adult lives with their 1980s hair and open smiles.

Alison Forrester held a picture of her uncle John Stout. “This is closure for our family. Nanny is no longer here but John’s dad is 89 this year and he’s at home in Coolock waiting for me to call.”

There was huge excitement as the group prepared to leave the grounds of the Rotunda and face the media outside. Cameras were banked up outside the gates.

A man arrived with two large speakers on wheels. Ciaran O’Sullivan said he wasn’t a member of the Stardust Committee but he was asked to help out. Suddenly, the emotive strains of You’ll Never Walk Alone rang out around Cavendish Row.

The families emerged on to the road, walking behind a long banner, mainly parents to the forefront. Half crying, half smiling, they walked towards the Garden of Remembrance. Motorists tooted their horns in salute and people hung out the widows of the old buildings on Parnell Square, clapping and cheering.

“When you walk through a storm, hold your head up high

And don’t be afraid of the dark…”

On they marched until they were in the garden and lined up along the steps at the statue of the Children of Lir. This was their time. And time for their children, who never came home, to finally come home.

“Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart

And you’ll never walk alone…”

They never did.

They never forgot.

They will always be remembered.