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Victims of the Stardust fire in February of 1981.

Stardust ceiling was 'raining flames' causing ashtrays to ignite on tables below

Evidence was given today by three women from Derry who lost their friend in the fatal fire.

AN INQUEST JURY has heard that it was “raining flames” in the Stardust nightclub causing ashtrays to ignite on the tables below.

Evidence was given today by three women from Derry who lost their friend in the fatal fire.

“Five of us came down from Derry, but only four went home,” said Yvonne Blackwell, referring to her friend Susan Morgan, one of the 48 young people who lost their lives when flames consumed the Stardust in the early hours of Valentine’s Day, 1981.

Blackwell gave evidence today along with sisters Ann and Finola Horner, during the inquest in the Dublin District Coroner’s Court.

In her original statement, Blackwell, who was 18 at the time, said she saw a small fire at the end of the hall and told her friends, but they would not believe her.

She said everyone then began screaming, and the next thing she remembered was lying flat on her face outside exit five with something on her back, which she said she was nearly sure was a blue bin.

She said there was a man lying next to her burnt, with his coat and shirt stuck to him, and she could not help as she was not able to move.

“I just saw the fire and panicked. We didn’t even know where the exits were, I was just getting pushed and shoved along with the crowd, I hadn’t a clue where I was going,” she said.

She told Bernard Condon SC, representing the family of Susan Morgan, that she could not remember if she even saw Susan in the nightclub, as the place was “really packed”.

“None of us talked about it for years, we didn’t want to talk about it, it just made you remember it all again. We all went a wee bit mad afterwards, went out drinking, and I ended up on tablets,” said Blackwell.

Condon asked her about the young man she saw outside on the ground who was burnt, but Blackwell replied that she did not remember him.

“Unless I blocked it out. I feel so bad about it,” she said.

The jury heard evidence from Ann Horner, who, in her original statement made in 1981, said that she fell in the crush of people.

She said it was very hot and she could not breathe. Outside the Stardust, she noticed a youth on fire, so she put him down on the grass and he was screaming. She said she thought his name was Larry.

Horner told Gemma McLoughlin-Burke BL, a member of the coroner’s legal team, that when she got to an exit door, there were bolts locking the door.

“I could manage the bottom one, but I couldn’t reach the top,” she said.

She said that when she first noticed the fire, “it was like an orange lamp glow”.

“There was an orange glow, and within seconds it seemed to flash. There was a flash over the ceiling and there were droplets of flames, it was raining flames, and the ashtrays were igniting on the tables,” she said.

“It was so hard to breathe, it was burning your nostrils and chest, and even when you closed your eyes it was like your eyeballs were melting,” she said.

She said that she remembered “scrambling down an alleyway” outside.

“I was just scrambling to get out, you were scrambling for your life,” she said.

She said that her friend Christine was looking to go back into the nightclub for a friend, and Horner said she could not physically hold Christine back.

“The only way to stop her was to jump up and whack her, then she kinda came down a bit,” she said.

Horner confirmed to Brenda Campbell KC, representing a number of the families of the victims, that the door she first went to was “definitely locked”.

She said earlier in the night, she was out dancing, and she remembered looking at a door and seeing a chain.

“I was laughing with a fella that they’ve locked us in, and he said: ‘They haven’t locked us in, they’ve locked them out.’ He said people were getting in for free. I never experienced that before in my life,” said Horner, confirming that she saw a lock on the door.

She told Campbell that when she saw “sparks raining down”, the ashtrays started igniting on the tables because the heat was so intense.

“When we were out, we would have put lighters into ashtrays, so maybe with the intense heat they exploded. I just assumed the lighters exploded in the ashtrays,” she said.

“I don’t remember getting out. I remember the last breath and thinking: ‘I’m dying, I’m going to die, I feel so peaceful I just want to die.’ All I remember then is scrambling down an alleyway with all these people,” she said.

She said she remembered helping the man outside and he had an ingot around his neck with the name ‘Larry’ on it.

“He was in a bad way, he kept shouting another name. There were flames and we were trying to get him rolled on the grass,” she said.

In response to a question from Joe Brolly, representing families of the victims, Horner confirmed that the man she helped was Larry Stout, and he was shouting the name ‘John’, which was his brother, who died in the fire.

She said that when she was still inside the nightclub, she saw what looked like a “parachute of flames” falling from the ceiling.

“The flash went across the ceiling, everyone was panicking and screaming.

There was the glow and then a woosh across the ceiling, then I heard popping, it was glass breaking all around, like when you open a champagne bottle,” she said.

Finola Horner next gave evidence, telling McLoughlin-Burke that she saw “a big orange glow” that “seemed to crawl across the ceiling”.

“Everything happened so quickly, it seemed like flames coming across the ceiling,” she said.

She said she saw “stuff” coming from the ceiling that was like “bits of fire or light coming down, as if something had melted”.

“Everyone was running for their lives, you couldn’t get out, there were ten people stomping over you to try and get out, people running over you,” she said.

The jury also heard evidence from Valerie Walsh, who, in her original statement, said that when she got outside the Stardust, someone closed the door behind her.

“I don’t know the reason, because there were a lot of people behind me,” she said.

She told McLoughlin-Burke that when the fire started, she saw “stuff falling onto our table”.

“It was pieces from the ceiling, like big pieces of rubber, it looked like,” she said.

Walsh told Condon that she thought the exit doors were closed after she left to stop people going back into the burning building. She said she did not see the doors being reopened after that.

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