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The 48 victims of the Stardust fire. ROLLINGNEWS.IE
stardust inquest

DJ assistant tells Stardust Inquest fuses up to 60 light boxes would run off four plugboards

The inquest was also told there was never an electrician supervising when the light and sound system was set up on the stage.

A THEN-TEENAGER who worked with DJ in the Stardust has told an inquest that fuses in the venue would blow “on a regular basis” and there was never an electrician supervising when the light and sound system was set up on the stage.

Anthony McDonald, who was 18 at the time, also confirmed to counsel at the inquest today that about 50 or 60 light boxes would be run off four plugboards.

Mr McDonald agreed with lawyers that when they were setting up equipment in the club they were essentially left to their own devices.

He told the jury at the Dublin District Coroner’s Court inquest into the fire which claimed the lives of 48 young people in the early hours of Valentine’s Day, 1981, that he helped to carry the equipment from a van into the club on the night.

It took around half an hour to bring all the equipment into the venue and the van was “packed” with gear including speakers and lighting cabinets, he told Mark Tottenham BL, a member of the coroner’s legal team.

Mr McDonald said he was on the stage when he heard someone say there was a fire.

He saw one of the blinds had been lifted up and he could see a fire which initially looked “very small”. 

He confirmed he had been with Michael Barrett (17), who died in the blaze, at the time.

He said when he initially saw the fire it looked “just like a bit of a flame” as if someone had “lit a ball of tissue”.

He said he went down the steps at the back of the stage and into the dressing room and told those inside about what he had seen. 

By the time he went back out, the fire still looked quite small but when the screen went up, he saw a flame “shooting across the ceiling”.

He said he went to exit three and tried to see if he could unwrap the chain on the door but was unable to do so.

He said he held the lock in his hand and was sure that it was “definitely locked”.

Mr McDonald said by this stage more people had arrived, and he and a group of other lads kicked the door to try and open it.

He said it took “about a minute of continuous kicking” before it eventually opened.

He said when he got out, the DJ van was parked against the steps and they had to jump over the side to get around it.

Mr McDonald said he thought he let in a man he knew into the club at around 9.30pm through exit three and the door was open at that stage.

He said the chain would normally hang on the bar and it would sometimes be wrapped around the two bars to give the impression that it was locked.

He said this would usually be done by one of the doormen.

The witness told Sean Guerin SC, representing a number of families of the deceased, that the van with the gear would have held about 50 or 60 light cabinets, eight speakers, two record decks, one unit, four plug boards and one amp.

Asked about set-up of this equipment, Mr McDonald confirmed that ultimately, all 50 or 60 units would all come into the plug boards, either directly or indirectly.

He said there was never an electrician or anyone else supervising the set-up of this equipment and agreed essentially, they were left to their own devices.

“Myself and Colm [O’Brien] would put the whole thing together,” he said.

He confirmed that fuses would have blown “on a regular basis” and agreed with counsel that would suggest it was “operating on capacity”.

Mr Guerin said Colm O’Brien, who was DJing on the night, has already given evidence that there was such an issue on the night. 

The witness said he could not recall this happening on the night of the fire but agreed that he would not dispute it either. “It happened from time to time,” he said. 

In his evidence to the inquest earlier this year, Mr O’Brien confirmed to counsel that the equipment they used was at the limit of what the electrical system in the Stardust could take.

Asked about his evidence to the 1981 tribunal of enquiry before Mr Justice Ronan Keane that he always knew exit three to be open, he said “most of the time it would be”.

Mr McDonald said he was surprised when he found that the door locked on the night of the fire as his previous experience was that it would be unlocked. 

He said when he got to exit three as he attempted to escape, there were two girls in the corridor who told him the door was locked. He said he pushed the bars a few times without success and then took the chain in his hand. 

“There was very little movement in the centre of the two doors where they would open out,” he said. “That chain was locked that night 100%.”

He said he kicked the door a couple of times but “it wasn’t doing a whole lot” and at that point four or five other lads came into the corridor and started kicking it with him.

A short time later the two doors “just swung open and gave way”.

He told Dáithí MacCárthaigh BL, representing a number of the victims’ families, that in the six months he had worked with DJ Danny Hughes, no one had ever suggested moving the van from exit three.

Evidence was also heard today from Bernadette Kenny who said she saw flames coming from the roof of the Stardust almost 20 minutes before the fire was first noticed in the club. 

Ms Kenny said her home in Maryfield Drive looked onto the back of the Stardust.

She said she looked at a digital clock in her parent’s bedroom after seeing the fire in the club and noted that the time was exactly 1.21am.

She said she was sure of the time because her family were “really good timekeepers” and used the talking clock to set the time on devices in the house.

She said a few minutes would have passed between her waking, hearing her father calling to her brothers and then moving into her parents’ bedroom next door where she saw the fire.

She told Gemma McLoughlin-Burke BL, a member of the coroner’s legal team, that the flames were orange and yellow and weren’t very high when she first saw them.

She said she could hear “explosions” and “some sort of noise associated with the flames” which were quite loud.