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The Stardust after the fire that left 48 people dead.
Wall of fire

Stardust patron tells inquest what she saw on night of fatal blaze was like 'looking into hell'

Christine Carr told the jury that she saw “a wall of fire” in the club.

A STARDUST PATRON has told an inquest jury that the fire she saw on the night of the fatal blaze was like “looking into hell”, describing a “rainbow of colours” that was “mesmerising” as the flames spread across the nightclub ceiling.

Christine Carr told the Dublin District Coroner’s Court that when she made her original statement to gardaí she was “traumatised” as she had just lost her friend, Marie Kennedy, one of the 48 young people who died when the fire swept through the Stardust in the early hours of 14 February, 1981.

Carr, who was just 16 at the time and with Marie Kennedy (17) on the night, today told the jury that she saw “a wall of fire” when a partition went up in the club.

“Then there was a backdraft, it disappears and then you’re looking into hell. It was just black, then the flames went across the ceiling,” she said.

She went on to tell Gemma McLoughlin-Burke BL, a member of the coroner’s legal team, that she had made her original statement five days after the fire and she was “traumatised” and suffering from “post-traumatic stress”.

“My best friend was after being killed,” said Carr.

She said that when the partition went up on the night, there was “a wall of fire” before the flames spread across the ceiling.

“It was all rainbow colours, greens, yellows and blues. It was mesmerising looking at it, I thought it was magnificent,” she said.

She said she headed for the main entrance and people were knocking her off balance. She said she got into the lobby and could see the two doors were closed.

“The lights went off, so I held my breath, then I had to breathe. (The smoke) was like tyres, it was hot and there was substance to it, like ash. The only thing I could move was my head. Then I had to breathe again, and now I have no oxygen; this is when I’m going to die.

My mouth was open, my head was going back, and my eyes were rolling, and I remember feeling: ‘Oh mammy, daddy, I’m going to die’. My next memory is being outside on all fours,” said Carr.

She told of how she was taken to hospital, and her father came in with Marie Kennedy’s father. She said that a nurse came over to them with Marie’s jewellery.

“I heard my dad screaming, so then I knew she was dead,” said Carr.

‘Open the door’

She told Brenda Campbell KC, representing nine of the families of the victims, that when she was trying to get out, everyone was pushing forward and she heard voices saying:

‘Open the door.’ She said she could hear “explosions” and there was panic in front of her. She said that the smoke was like “hot burning tyres and ash”.

Carr said that she must have been carried out by the crowd, because she did not remember how she got outside. The jury also heard evidence from Raymond English, who was 17 at the time and friends with Michael Griffiths (17), one of the people who lost their lives in the fire.

In his original statement, which was read to the jury by the court registrar, English said that when he first noticed smoke coming along the ceiling, he went and opened exit four. He said it was not locked with a chain and he was the first person to open the door.

“There was a crate of bottles outside, and I had to push that out of the way because people were falling over them,” he said.

In a second statement made in 1981, Mr English said that he had been incorrect in originally saying that it was exit four he opened, and he was sure that it was exit five.

“I was the first there. I tried to lift the push bar but it did not open. I messed around with it, and I wasn’t sure whether to open it or not. A girl behind me started to scream and shout, ‘Let me out, mister,’ and I then succeeded in opening the door.

There were a few people behind me and they all got out. I shifted a container of bottles blocking the door. I did not see any chains or locks on the exits,” he said.

Mr English told Simon Mills SC, a member of the coroner’s legal team, that the gardaí had asked him where he was on the dance floor, and when he indicated to them what the closest exit seemed to be, they said it must have been exit five.

“The only thing that I knew for definite was that there was a skip of bottles outside the door,” he said.

He confirmed to Mills that the jury could be satisfied that he left via the exit with a skip of bottles outside.

He said he “definitely” did not remember seeing any chains on the doors, nor did he remember seeing a padlock, and as far as he could remember, he had no difficulty opening them.

Locks and chains

Michael O’Higgins SC, representing a number of the families of those who lost their lives, put it to English that evidence given by the Stardust management accepted that there were locks and chains on all the doors that night.

He said that the staff agreed that there were locks and chains on the doors, in particular exit five, as did many of the patrons.

O’Higgins said that Harriet Reilly had given evidence that she saw a bouncer trying to open exit five by pulling the bar and kicking it, and there was a crush of people behind her. He said that David Carroll, who had worked in the Stardust previously, had given evidence that there were always locks and chains attached to the doors.

O’Higgins said that Carroll had given evidence that he ran to exit five, grabbed the bars and pulled up and down and there was no movement, and he also said he saw a chain and padlock on the door.

English replied that this was not his recollection, nor did he recall people kicking the door.

O’Higgins also put to him the account of Derek Brown, who gave evidence that exit five was chained and several people were kicking it, and the statement of Patricia O’Hare, who said she saw a bouncer pulling the bars and opening the doors out.

“I don’t remember any of that,” said Mr English.

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

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