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Sasko Lazarov/
stardust inquest

Woman whose parents died in the Stardust 'grew up in the shadow of disaster', inquest hears

48 people lost their lives in the fire at the Stardust Ballroom on 14 February, 1981.

A WOMAN WHO was orphaned after both her parents perished in the Stardust fire when she was just a baby has told how she “grew up in the shadow of this disaster”.

Lisa Lawlor delivered emotional pen portraits of her parents, Maureen and Francis Lawlor, who perished in the fire aged 23 and 25, at the Dublin Coroner’s Court today.

She said the allegation of arson during the first inquiry into the fire had added insult to injury, and said many believe that if the disco had been in an affluent Southside suburb, rather than a working-class area of Dublin’s Northside, the victims would not have been blamed for their own deaths.

“I’m an only child and the Stardust left me on my own in this world,” she told the inquest, telling the court how she was just 17 months old when her parents went out for a few drinks to celebrate Valentine’s Day.

Lisa said her mother had been reluctant to go because her infant daughter was just getting over a cough but her father had persuaded her they should “take some time to themselves for once”.

Telling the jury of the trauma and heartache both she and her extended family endured following the fire, she said: “I listened night after night to my grandmother’s wails, who wished she died and not my father. I was frozen in terror listening to this for years.”

She said she was afraid to go to school in case her grandmother died, too.


Lisa said some family members struggled with drug addiction in the wake of the tragedy and became “shadows of themselves” because of what happened at the Stardust.

She said that as a child, she was so “hungry for information” about her parents that she would “cling to whatever scraps” about their lives she heard from anyone who mentioned them and said her aunts and other members of the family told her endless stories about them.

I have no memories whatsoever of my two parents other than the pain, loss, and complete and utter devastation. I grew up in the shadow of this disaster.

Francis Lawlor

Lisa told the court that her father, Francis, was the eldest of 12 children and said her grandmother, Lally, remembered him as a little boy who just loved being with other children and wanted to be out and about all the time.

He was a bright student but was not very interested in academic study, so he left school after at 16 to start work and earn a living for himself. People assumed he would become a mechanic, she said, because he loved cars and motorbikes and “always had something up on concrete blocks” outside the house.

Francis joined the army at the age of 21 and Lisa told how his good friend Dennis Farrell remembered him as “clever and universally popular” with great leadership skills.

The two men qualified together and took part in the passing-out ceremony on 4 April, 1977.

Francis was a good soldier and a natural marksman, she said, adding that everyone remembers him as a very good-looking man.

“In those days, films were full of Italian-looking stars like John Travolta, George Hamilton and Tom Selleck who had dark good looks and plenty of hair like Francis,” Lisa said.

He was interested in fashion and often wore a three-piece, pin-striped suit, with his hair carefully combed. He could talk to anyone she said and could chat his way into, and out of, almost any situation.

Maureen Lawlor

Lisa told the inquest that her mother Maureen was one of seven children and was a confident child until she was 15 when she was knocked down by a car on Gardiner Street. Her pelvis was badly damaged as a result of the accident and her self confidence and school life took a hit.

Maureen left school after her inter cert and went to work in a butcher’s shop on Dorset Street.

Lisa said her mother was pretty, petite and slender with rosy cheeks, a fashionable blonde perm and blue eyes. She like to have order in her life and was always immaculately dressed and groomed.

“This meant that Maureen shared the interest my father, Francis, had in clothes,” she said.

They married when Francis was 19 and Maureen.

Lisa told the jury that she was born after her mother suffered several miscarriages and was thrilled to be a parent for the first time.

“My family would tell me that I was the light of my parents’ life and that they were totally smitten with their baby girl,” she said.

The only wonder was that they went out that night at all because they never liked to leave me.

Lisa said over the years she has been able to piece together much of what happened on “the last night of their young lives”.

She said her parents ended up staying longer than they had originally planned because they were having a lot of fun and didn’t want to miss the dance competition.

Lisa told the jury how her father managed to get out of the hall and started to run around looking for Maureen but soon realised Maureen was still inside and went back into the burning building to get her.

“Neither Francis nor Maureen ever came out again,” she said.

‘As if I knew something terrible had happened’

When news of the fire emerged, the teenage babysitter looking after Lisa ran out of the house because one of her family members was at the disco.

“In her fright, she must have completely forgotten about me or assumed somebody would come and take care of me,” Lisa explained.

“I was alone in our little house until 11am the next morning when my mother’s parents, Paddy and Elizabeth Farrell, came to get me … I was standing in my cot, screaming and beating my little head against the bars as if I knew something terrible had happened.”

Francis and Maureen’s funeral was part of a group funeral with other victims held in Donnycarney church in Artane. Many of the mourners were young people who had survived the fire, some still in bandages.

“People have told me about seeing me there holding my grandmother’s hand. Though I don’t remember the funeral, I am glad that I was there,” Lisa said.

She told how Maureen’s mother, Elizabeth, was “broken” after the tragedy and died of a heart attack just four weeks after the fire aged just 54. Francis’s mother, Lally, cried “day in, day out”, Lisa said, and was faced with the responsibility of having to raise her, aged just 17 months old.

After losing her parents Lisa said she was “an inconsolable infant” and cried night after night.

Lisa said her grandmother wore her son’s wedding ring on a chain around her neck for years, before giving it to her.

Part of me died and I was never normal, whatever normal is

She said after her grandparents died, there were times she felt she couldn’t go on.

She said she sometimes allows herself to feel angry at her dad for going back into the fire.

“There is every reason to assume that, if Maureen and Francis hadn’t gone on that rare night out, they would have had happy, productive lives, filled with the children Maureen longed for, and the fulfilling work life, with colleagues and banter, Francis had such talent for,” Lisa said.

Lisa cried as she told the inquest she always wondered what her parents’ last thoughts might have been and what happened to them in their final few minutes.

“I wonder about them suffering. I wonder whether Francis, my dad, ever found her, my mum, or whether he died without finding her. I wonder whether they realised that their lives were about to end.

“I wonder whether they tried to comfort one another before it was too late. I wonder if they thought about their baby girl.”

Lisa said she hopes that after all these years, her parents will finally get the justice that they deserve.

Margaret Kiernan

In a separate pen portrait delivered today, the court heard that the mother of another victim asked for her daughter “with her dying breath” when she passed away aged 92 last summer.

Margaret Kiernan was remembered as “kind and sensitive soul” who loved her family.

The inquest heard that Margaret’s brothers, Jimmy and John, spent the following days searching the hospitals and then the morgue, “hoping against hope” that she might still be alive.

In a portrait read to the inquest today by Margaret’s best friend Deirdre Dames, on behalf of the Kiernan family, Margaret was described as someone who had a vast number of friends through her love of sports and socialising.

Deirdre told how Margaret was “like a sister” to her and how they had formed a connection from the first day they met in school.

Margaret had a great sense of humour and style and was a real girlie girl in every way, Deirdre said.

In his pen portrait read by Deirdre, Jimmy remembered his sister as someone who loved having fun. She loved music and “used to scream out a version of Roxanne”.

He told how the funeral brought the reality of what had happened home. “We were never going to see our baby sister again. My parents at the time were inconsolable and suicidal. They were never the same people after that terrible night.”

Jimmy said both he and his brother John’s families feel like they know Margaret as they were brought up with memories of their aunt.

He said there was not a single day where his mother didn’t speak about Margaret, usually with tears in her eyes.

John remembered his sister as someone who had a wide circle of friends and who was popular in her new job. He said Margaret introduced him to a lot of her friends and even encouraged him to date the woman who is now his wife.

He said his biggest regret is that after 41 years, the family are still are searching for justice. “As was pointed out recently, if this happened in a more affluent area the case would have been solved at the outset”.

He said their mother had passed away on 14 June, 2022, aged 92, and was asking for Margaret with her dying breath. “Hopefully Margaret is reunited with mam and dad and with the right outcome of this court,” he added.

Sandra Lawless

In another pen portrait, Sandra Lawless, who died in the fire aged 18, was remembered by her family today as a “kind, funny and selfless” girl who loved life.

Sandra was a girl guide leader and champion swimmer who loved the outdoors and hiking, her brother Brendan Lawless told the Coroner’s Court.

In a portrait delivered to the inquest on behalf of the Lawless family, Brendan described Sandra as a beautiful, loving and caring daughter to her parents Bridget and Paul and to her six siblings.

He said Sandra loved outdoor activities and the outdoor life. At the time of the fire she worked in Guilt Edge making toys with her sister Valerie and her auntie Vivie.

Brendan told how Sandra would make Valerie’s lunch and iron her clothes every morning before they went to work.

He said Valerie remembers how much Sandra loved hiking in the Dublin mountains and how big a help she was when she acted as chief bridesmaid at Valerie’s wedding, picking out the flowers and the dresses.

Brendan said their brother Brian remembers Sandra as a kind, selfless and outgoing person who would always put the needs of others before her own.

He said before the fire, Sandra had given Brian 65 pence to buy a Valentine’s card for his “imaginary girlfriend” and that his brother still treasures those coins today because he never got to use them.

Brendan said what he remembers most about Sandra is her kind heart. She always helped their mother to look after the younger children, he said, and always had a smile on her face.

He said Sandra was like a “second mother” to Fidelma, the youngest sibling, whom she “doted on” and had a special bond with.

He said the week before the Stardust was Fidelma’s eighth birthday and Sandra treated her to a day’s shopping in Cleary’s, where she bought her a beautiful baby doll’s sleeping carriage with a lace canopy and lace coverings.

“Fidelma always remembers feeling so special playing with it with her friends,” he said.

Brendan said on the night of the fire their mother became concerned when Sandra didn’t arrive home at her usual time and a short time later a friend called to the house to say there had been a fire.

He said his dad searched every hospital for Sandra over the next few days, hearing “the screams and cries of those injured and burnt”, while looking and hoping to find his own daughter amongst the crowds of people. This was “traumatic and devastating,” for his father, Brendan said.

He eventually went to the city morgue the following Monday where Sandra’s jewellery was identified.

“That day all our lives changed forever,” Brendan said. He said his parents were devastated by what happened, as they all were, and nobody knew how to react or cope.

Brendan said there was no professional help or counselling for families, and no one knew if they were saying or doing the right things.

However, he said the family helped and supported each other through the ordeal.

“We are a strong, close knit, united family. We have been through a hell of a lot but we are still here in unity.”

He said the family have lost their mother Bridget, sister Annette and brother Paul in the years since the fire but said their deceased relatives would have loved to see this day come after all the years of fighting for justice for our loved ones.

“We hope these inquests will give us the answers we have waited over 41 years to receive,” said Brendan. “No matter what the outcome, Sandra will always have a place in our hearts.”

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