Stardust survivor tells inquest he heard youth claim he knew who started the fire

Stardust Survivor Tells Inquest He Heard Youth Claim He Knew Who Started The Fire
The fire that killed 48 people when it consumed the Stardust nightclub in the early hours of February 14th 1981.
Share this article

Ryan Dunne

A patron of the Stardust nightclub saw a woman running towards an exit “in a ball of flame” and later told gardaí that he had heard a youth outside the building claim that he knew who had started the fatal fire, an inquest has heard.

The statements of unavailable witnesses were read into the record at the Dublin District Coroner’s Court, during the inquest into the fire that killed 48 people when it consumed the Stardust nightclub in the early hours of February 14th 1981.



The statement of Stephen Keogh was read out by a member of the coroner’s legal team. His statement was one of two heard by the jury from people who were in the Stardust that night with Francis and Maureen Lawlor, both of whom died in the blaze.

Mr Keogh said that about five minutes before the fire started, he saw about six youths, all males, scuffling with one another near the partitioned-off area where the fire started.

He said they were “only pushing and messing with one another”, and about five minutes later, he saw a small flame up high near where the youths had been messing. As the fire spread, Mr Keogh said that “the whole ceiling was in a ball of flame.”

“The ceiling was dropping down, the seats were on fire, and the smoke was getting thicker. I saw a girl running towards exit number two in a ball of flame, she was screaming out loud,” he said.


Mr Keogh said that he tried to open an exit door but failed. He lay down on the floor beside a girl and put his coat over himself.

“I thought this was the end, and I was prepared to die. The girl beside me looked to be dead as she was making no sound,” he said, going on to say that he then heard someone say, “Grab him”, and he was pulled outside.

“Beside me, I saw a girl lying on the ground, and she appeared to be dead. A fellow was crying over her. Another youth came over to him and said, ‘It’s alright, I know who started it'," said Mr Keogh.


He said that this youth looked about 16 or 17, was about five foot three inches in height, well-built, with reddish blond hair. Mr Keogh said this youth and two other youths went towards the main entrance “as if they were looking for the fellow who did it”.


“My left hand was burnt and very sore, so also was the left side of my forehead, neck and nose. I felt in bits at this stage,” said Mr Keogh. He said that he later learnt Francis and Maureen Lawlor had died in the fire.

Reid was also in the Stardust that night with Francis and Maureen Lawlor. In her statement, Ms Reid said she saw flames and black smoke, so she ran for one of the exits.

“I got to one of the exits and found it was locked and could not be opened from the inside,” she said.

“I felt I was burning, but the smoke was so thick at this time that I could not see the flames. I put the coat over my head to keep the smoke out of my nose and eyes and lay down on the floor. A lot of people were on the floor, and they were screaming and moaning in pain. I was walked on several times,” said Ms Reid.


The statement of Raymond Scully was heard, in which Mr Scully said he saw smoke coming out from under the curtain which cut off a section of the hall. As he moved towards a doorman, he saw a girl shouting at the doorman, "There’s a fire."

“We all started to move towards exit two. On the way there was a chap lying on the ground. Some chap was beside me, and I asked him to help me get the chap on the ground out. We bent down to help him and both of us got knocked down,” said Mr Scully.

He said he put his hands over his head as people were tumbling over him, then he was able to get back up and he and the other man caught hold of the man who was still lying on the ground.

“Then a portion of the ceiling which was blazing fell in front of us, and we made our way to the door,” he said, going on to say that the lights went out and smoke was coming down from the ceiling. He said that when he got to the door, it was closed.


“I tried to open the door, but there was a lock and chain on it. There were three or four people lying on the ground and others were near the door. I saw Benny Johnson dragging his girlfriend, Caroline Carey along. She was killed,” said Mr Scully.

Mr Scully said that he and the other man could not get out that way, so they felt their way along the wall still dragging the other male, until they made their way into a little room. The lights went out, and they saw the shape of a window from the flicker of lights from outside.

“We pulled at the frame and there were iron bars behind it. We could not get out through the bars. Someone must have opened the door behind us, as the smoke flamed into the room and filled it. I went down on the ground, and the two of us started to pray, and I was sure I was going to die,” he said.

Mr Scully said he then heard a voice from outside saying, “We have you”, and he stood up, and the man outside pulled him through the window. The other man with him pushed the male they had been carrying out through the window and then got out himself.

Mr Scully said he went back into the building through the main entrance.

“The place was blazing, and I couldn’t get in very far. I saw a lad on the ground with his back on fire, so I grabbed him and dragged him out,” he said.

The jury also heard the evidence of Joseph Halligan, who said that he had, in the past, tried to open exit doors in the Stardust and they were always chained and locked.

“The doors would open a small bit, but the chain would prevent them from opening fully,” he said.

“There is no way anyone could squeeze themselves in or out through the doors, as there would only be about six inches of an opening there. No one was ever allowed to leave by any of those doors after dancing was over, no matter what size the crowd would be. It was always by the front door that everyone left.”

At the conclusion of the reading of these statements, the coroner Dr Myra Cullinane informed the jury that the inquest is reaching the next stage of evidence, that of first and emergency responders.

The inquest continues on Friday in the Pillar Room of the Rotunda Hospital.

Read More

Message submitting... Thank you for waiting.

Want us to email you top stories each lunch time?

Download our Apps
© 2024, developed by Square1 and powered by