The Stardust Scar of Arson still lives on

entrance to star dust
entrance to star dust

Valentines’s day, some may call it a commercial opportunity others only pain. What is celebrated by so many is dreaded by some as it drags up that fatal night that took the lives of those who lost their lives in the tragic Stardust fire.


That Fatal night

The 13th of February 1981, the eve of Valentines and as young teenagers do, many spent hours getting ready, anticipating the night to come, wondering whether love would be found on this special night. Stardust, a popular night club located in Artane, Dublin 5 opened its doors to over 200 youngsters from all over the North of Dublin.


Owned by the renowned and successful business family, the Butterly’s this night would soon tarnish their reputation and deeply scar so many families. As they danced away to the likes of Blondie and the Base City Rollers, unknown too many some of the near exits were sealed shut and flames began to engulf the west alcove of the ballroom.

Anthony McDonald, a survivor described for a prime time documentary on RTE, in 2006 that when he tried to escape he “picked up one of the chains on the fire exit doors, and it was locked to the door. It was not just draped over the push bar.’


As the flames began to spread, panic became widespread and for many there was no way out. Firemen fought to control the blaze but it was too late. Stardust would claim the lives of twenty five men and twenty three women within minutes. Eleven were badly disfigured and two hundred and fourteen were injured.

stardust memorial candles


Elite versus the working class

So thirty three years later it would be expected that someone would have been held accountable for the lives that were lost? While newspapers have covered different events and protests surrounding the event, not one person has taken the blame for this horrific accident. The only individual to face any charges for a crime relating to the Stardust event is a Mr John Keegan. He was a father; a man who had lost not only one but two daughters, Martina Keegan aged sixteen and Mary Keegan nineteen.


His third daughter, Antoinette was eighteen at the time and escaped barely with her life and describes how thirty three years on ‘the families are still stuck in 1981; haven’t been able to move on. My sisters’ right to life was taken away from them and until the truth comes out they won’t get it back.’

Mr. Keegan was charged with assault on the owner Mr Eamon Butterly but not one charge was brought against the establishment or management of the club.


Immediately after this event occurred, the Fianna Fail Government established a tribunal of inquiry into the circumstance. In 1982 the final results of the Keane Tribunal criticised the Dublin Corporation, in regard to lack of accuracy in building regulation and planning inspections. The tribunal pointed out the position that the Department of Environment played by highlighting the poor quality of training in fire service. And as for the Butterly household and management, what merely seemed like a ‘slap on the wrist,’ the Keane report condemned them for their carelessness when it was found that some of the emergency doors had been sealed shut.


The final outcome of the inspection indicated that the fire was possibly arson. No group or individual was brought to justice, no answer was given to those who lost their loved ones, the Butterly’s took no responsibility.

Elite versus the working class

Brid McDermott lost three children in the Star Dust tragedy – William (22) George (19) and Marcella (16) – Each day she is reminded how she has “no answers as to why my children died.” There has been no further investigation, no more answers given. However, it seems that over the years with the downfall of Fianna Fail, the question remains: ‘how close were the Butterlys and this political party and was it a case of the powerful versus the rest of society?’

The Butterly’s emphire stretched over a number companies and shares. Their main company is the Butterly Business Park, (with assets over 10.9million euro) while they also own Butterly Enterprise which has two subsidiaries Patrick Butterly and Sons and Patrick Butterly and Sons (Farms). While it is not a crime to be a successful business man, it makes people wonder whether having friends in high places can cover the mistakes that are made along the way.

As the Fianna Fail Government scandals emerged over the years with the corruption of Charles Haughey and later the questionable actions of Bertie Ahern, the friends of the Butterly’s seemed somewhat all too coincidental as did the outcome of the Star Dust event. It became known that throughout the years the Butterlies rubbed shoulders with the likes of Kevin Boland, the then minister for Industry and Commerce and Taoiseach Jack Lynch. Looking back over the years, while these may have been merely friendships the words of Jack Lynch, in his memoirs leaves a shadow of doubt lingering when he stated: ‘we were all Fianna Failers.’ The investigation of Fianna Fail, into the event which lasted 122 days simply put down to arson.


Within two weeks of the incident Mr Butterly commented on the reformation of the club and that ‘if I were to building it again I would build it in concrete which does not burn.’ Twenty five years on, he rebuilt a pub on the site calling it the Silver Swan and opened it on the night of the anniversary of the Stardust fire. While making his money over the years there has been no manslaughter charge, no blame not even an apology, just a life sentence for the families.


dancing statue memorial

So who is to blame? Do we direct it towards the owners or does it become a memory of the past? Lives were lost and still no answer. What do you think could be done?

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