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'Devastating and important': Behind the scenes at the Stardust podcast as the fight for justice continued

Over the course of six months, TheJournal.ie produced the Stardust podcast. Here’s how.

ON THE ANNIVERSARY every February, Stardust hits the news again. 

Nightclub. Dublin. Dozens of people. Fire. Locks on some of the doors. Tragedy. Lack of closure. Still fighting today. 

It was the 38th anniversary of the fire this year. It came and went like any other over the past few years. There was a vigil at the site in north Dublin. The families still feel they were denied justice. They were still fighting.

stardust-nightclub-fire A vigil outside Leinster House on the anniversary this year. Source: Niall Carson/PA Images

I read the news story that day like many others would have. It was awful to hear the effect it was still having on people. They were still suffering all this time after. This year, I felt compelled to dig deeper. I was born in 1992 and didn’t have the context I felt I needed to understand.

So I did. I read the Tribunal report. And the next one. And the next one. I watched interviews with the victims and the families. Then and now. 

I was convinced this was a story worth telling to a new audience, in a way that hadn’t been done before. So were Nicky Ryan – my colleague who produced the podcast – and Christine Bohan – TheJournal.ie‘s deputy editor and executive producer of the podcast. 

People of my generation know about Stardust, but we don’t know about it. We wanted to make something that would tell that story from the point of view of the people who lived it, and which looked at two big themes: what happens when people never get closure after a massive tragedy? And how did the Irish State handle Stardust so badly? 

When interviewing Eamon Dunphy we asked him whether people had forgotten about the Stardust, and he told us: “Of course”. Journalist Charlie Bird agreed.

This was a story that needed to be retold. People who are old enough all remember hearing about the Stardust.

Our families remembered, and so did colleagues and others we spoke to. 

They’d describe seeing the news bulletins, or reading the papers. They’d remember seeing Charles Haughey in the ruins, or the coverage of the funerals. 

We found it difficult to imagine a tragedy on such a scale in Dublin. The city hasn’t faced a disaster like this since the Stardust. 

That’s why we wanted to tell this story, for those who were around back then and those who weren’t. Stardust isn’t just a segment you’ll hear every few months in the fifth or sixth position in a news bulletin. 

It was a horrific event that scarred this city. And it was never resolved. 

Making the podcast

We started work on it in June.

After getting an outline of what we were going to do, we had to reach out to people. People there that night. Families of those who’d died. The emergency responders who’d rushed to the scene. The politicians who’ve helped people along.

The lion’s share of that was helped along by Antoinette Keegan, who’s been a prominent campaigner for the past four decades. She lost her sisters Mary and Martina in the fire, and has never stopped fighting for the answers they feel were denied them.

We made contact with so many people who were incredibly generous – with their time and effort. They invited us into their homes. They told us about horrific experiences in their lives. 

Every day for about a month during the summer, we got our microphones and recorders and headed out to north Dublin. 

On a personal level, I was struck by the humanity, the decency and the very, very tangible Dublinness to the families and victims of Stardust. I’m from Dublin (although not from that area), and it was humbling to get the chance to speak to them. 

Many of them still live in the same house or on the same street they grew up in. They’ve lived in this community and stayed there after what happened. 

They were articulate. They were passionate. They were candid. They were often very, very funny.

They told me about some of the worst experiences of their lives, and I felt privileged that they were telling me these stories. 

The Stardust left a mark on them that hasn’t gone away. After such engaging accounts, our job was then to do them justice and put it all together. 

We decided to make the first episode about setting the scene at the beginning of the 1980s. We knew some incredibly sad accounts were coming in episodes three and four, in particular, so wanted to try be as sensitive as we could in presenting those stories. We weren’t sure about episode six, which brought it up to the present day, until the very end. 

Just a week before we’d finished, the families got the news they’d been waiting for when new inquests were ordered for their loved ones. The emotion in the room at a press conference the next day was palpable. 

From talking to them before this, you could see that they were hopeful rather than expectant. Charlie Bird told us that he really didn’t think they’d ever get this far. 

Having seen them a few weeks and months before unsure if their latest efforts would be a success, this was some turnaround. 

Reaction

When we released the podcast, we hoped for a few things like a) we’d done the families’ stories’ justice, b) we’d made a good podcast,  and c) people would listen to it. 

To say we were blown away by the reaction is an understatement. People have listened in their tens of thousands. 

Listeners came in every week, or waited till they could binge listen the full thing. 

The Guardian gave it a write up: “With new inquests on the way, reporter Sean Murray speaks to relatives of the victims, survivors and others to paint a picture of an event that shook a working-class area and was never truly resolved by the government – with obvious parallels to the UK’s Grenfell and Hillsborough tragedies. Devastating and important.”

The inquests are due to get under way next year, and we hope the Stardust podcast will stand out as a resource for people to get up to date on this tragic story.

And, with those forthcoming, we’ll be back next year to provide the very latest on what happened into the inquests of the 48 who never came home.

Sean Murray is a journalist with TheJournal.ie, and presents the Stardust podcast. All six episodes are available now wherever you get your podcasts. 

About the author:

Sean Murray

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