We need your help now

Support from readers like you keeps The Journal open.

You are visiting us because we have something you value. Independent, unbiased news that tells the truth. Advertising revenue goes some way to support our mission, but this year it has not been enough.

If you've seen value in our reporting, please contribute what you can, so we can continue to produce accurate and meaningful journalism. For everyone who needs it.

stardust inquest

Stardust survivor says fire spread 'like a flamethrower', inquest hears

James Feery said that a former Stardust doorman told him that several exit doors were locked and chained that night.

A SURVIVOR OF the Stardust fire has described flames moving along the walls and ceiling of the nightclub “like a flamethrower”, telling an inquest jury that he thought he was dying as smoke started to fill the hallway leading to an exit.

James Feery, who knew Murtagh ‘Murty’ Kavanagh, one of the 48 victims of the fire that swept through the nightclub in Artane in the early hours of 14 February 1981, today also said that a former Stardust doorman told him that several exit doors were locked and chained that night.

In his original statement, read out by the court registrar, Mr Feery said that his friend Noel Quigley, a former doorman in the Stardust who previously gave evidence to the inquest, told him on the night that he had tried to open exit door three but it was locked.

“He said that there was a chain on it and also on the doors on the right hand side, which would be exit four, five and six. He said that there was stuff packed against one of these, but I do not know which one he meant,” said Mr Feery.

He said that he heard somebody shout, ‘Fire,’ so he looked to his right and saw a lot of smoke. The DJ asked people not to panic, and people began running towards the main door. He said he saw two or three bouncers fighting the fire with extinguishers, and he then saw flames shoot out towards the entrance.

“They moved along the walls and the ceiling like a flamethrower. I ran to the front of the building and got into the hallway of exit two, and people were jammed in there and there was no movement,” he said.

He said the whole place then filled with fumes and people, mostly women, were collapsing.

“My hair got singed with the heat. There was complete darkness, and I realised that the front door was shut… There were people lying all over the floor of the hallway and others walking over them,” he said.

Mr Feery said that the doors were then opened, which caused “a big heave” that carried him with the crowd out into the open.

In response to questioning by Bernard Condon SC, representing the families of ten of the victims, including Murtagh Kavanagh’s, Mr Feery said the flames “shot out everywhere” and he saw them “shoot across the ceiling”.

“It caught the ceiling and the whole lot just shot across like a flamethrower,” he said. “There was panic all over the place, and there were a lot of people in the hall, but nobody could get out, so everyone was getting jammed in the hall because the main doors were locked.”

He said there were men at the door trying to break the small panels in the door to try to get air in.

“The smoke started to fill the hall and the power went inside, and all I could see was flames and thick smoke, I couldn’t breathe at this stage,” he said, going on to say that people were collapsing in the hall and others were running up and down the stairway.

“They couldn’t get out there, because I believe there were bars on the windows. I was trying to breathe through a cardigan that I was wearing. There were girls pulling out of me begging for help, and nobody could do anything at this stage. It was shocking,” he said.

He said that just as he was passing out the doors burst open, and he saw smoke getting sucked out and he got pushed out the door.

“I thought I was dying. I was actually sick, I was just black, and I made my way out to the main road and tried to hail down a few cars. I could see people coming out with their hands up and their clothes burnt off them. There were cars driving around me; they probably thought I was some sort of a lunatic,” he said.

In response to questioning by Des Fahy KC, representing a number of the families, Mr Feery confirmed that Mr Quigley had said that exits three, four, five and six were all chained and locked.

“He said he had never seen this before in all the time that he was working there. He said that all the doors, every one of them had either furniture or chains locked around the doors,” he said, explaining that Mr Quigley had told him there were tables and chairs stacked up against some of the doors.

Mr Feery also told Dáithí Mac Cárthaigh BL, representing one of the families of the deceased, that the spread of the flames was “just unbelievable”.

“It just took off, like lighting a match and putting it into a box of matches,” he said.

Mr Feery said that he saw the whole ceiling collapsing and he could hear “crackling”. He said that when he was carried out by the movement of the crowd, his hair was sizzling and his “whole insides were burning out”.

The jury also heard the statements of a number of unavailable witnesses all of whom mentioned people who died in the fire. These statements were read out by members of the coroner’s legal team.

Thomas Kearney, who knew George, William and Marcella McDermott, said he saw fire on what looked like a grille.

“It was burning up the grille. It was dripping down like hot grease,” he said.

“I looked and saw the flames coming across the ceiling and I saw stuff dripping from the roof onto the seats.”

Ann Roe, who was present with Paula Lewis and Sandra Lawless, said she saw flames just shoot out across the ceiling. Patrick Farrell, brother of Michael Farrell who died in the fire along with his girlfriend Thelma Frazer, said that when the screen was lifted up, “the flames just came rushing out”, while Margaret Heffernan, who was with Teresa McDonnell, said that she saw about 100 people going out the main entrance and there was a lot of panic.

Declan Gillanders, who was with George O’Connor, said he heard someone shouting and girls screaming, and he saw smoke billowing out from under the shutters where the fire started.

“There seemed to be a general melee rushing towards the exits,” he said.

He said he reached a passageway and the whole area was covered with thick black smoke.

“The fumes were choking me, and I was getting it hard to breathe,” he said.

Mr Gillanders said that he thought there may have been people on the ground being trampled on. He said he was about to faint when he got to the door. He said that outside, he met people he knew who were trying to get back inside looking for sisters and friends.

“The place inside was like an inferno and we had to restrain them from going back in as they would have no chance,” he said.

The inquest continues tomorrow in the Pillar Room of the Rotunda Hospital.