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  • Northside East

Inside the Stardust: when celebration turned to terror

Wednesday, 14th February, 2018 11:03am
Inside the Stardust: when celebration turned to terror

The aftermath of the Stardust fire

Inside the Stardust: when celebration turned to terror

The aftermath of the Stardust fire

THE excitement in the Stardust was reaching fever pitch. Hundreds had gathered around the dance floor to see who would win the disco dancing competition.

Albert Buckley joined his sister-in-law, Christine, on the floor. Together they watched Albert’s younger brother, Errol, going through his moves. He was getting the loudest cheers from the crowd and easily stood out from the other competitors taking part in the final.

Just after 1.30am, DJ Danny Hughes stopped the music momentarily to announce that a boy and a girl had been selected as the winners. The Buckley brothers were ecstatic when Errol was announced as the best of the men. The girl chosen from the two dozen hopefuls was 15-year-old Paula McDonald, from Coolock.

Errol had brought the house down with his fantastic dance routine to the Patrick Fernandez disco hit, ‘Born to be Alive’. He punched the air as he stepped up onto the stage to be presented with his prize by Hughes – a £25 K-Tel record voucher.

The winning couple was invited to perform a victory dance on the stage and the large crowd of onlookers gathered to clap along to the song. Another DJ, Colm Ó Briain, took the microphone and encouraged the audience to join in on the dancefloor. Hundreds took him up on the offer and danced to what was to be one of the last songs of the night. It was now 1.41am.

At the western side of the ballroom, approximately 50 people were sitting or standing around five tables. Behind them was a roller blind, made from a PVC-coated, polyester fabric. Split into five sections, the curtain was lowered to partition off an alcove of banked seating stretching to and along the side wall.

The west alcove itself was the smaller of two such sections in the Stardust. It measured over 17 metres in length and 10 metres in depth. There were eight tiers of seats, with each tier containing 15 units of double seats. Some of the regular patrons of the Stardust remember being surprised when they arrived at the disco to find that the west alcove was sealed off and the larger north alcove was open. Usually the reverse was the case, with the north alcove only open if the numbers warranted it.

Some of the people in this area were standing on tables and chairs to get a better view of the disco dancing competition. A couple of girls stood on the ledge where the curtain came to the floor and were resting their backs against the partition. While the attention of most people was directed towards the dance floor, those standing against the curtain started to notice the smell of something burning.

Linda Bishop was sitting at the first table in front of the blind, next to the main bar. As she was watching the end of the competition, she noticed a sudden rise in temperature. This surprised her because she had spent most of the night feeling cold. She mentioned to her friend, Sandra Hatton, that she thought the management had switched on the central heating. They both wondered why anyone might have done that, considering it was close to the end of the night.

The girls shrugged their shoulders and got up to dance to one of their favourite songs, ‘Lorraine’, by Bad Manners.

Those remaining at the tables also started to smell smoke and they, too, felt a surge in temperature. Moments later, others sitting or standing in the area noticed a glow behind the curtain.
Jacqueline McCarthy, from Kilbarrack, had just returned to her seat when she caught a strong smell of smoke. Suddenly, she felt a blast of heat. More curious than her friends, she lifted up the curtain beside her to glance underneath.

What she saw filled her with instant dread.

This is an edited extract from the book ‘They Never Came Home – the Stardust Story’, by Neil Fetherstonhaugh and Tony McCullagh.

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