The Stardust — a tragedy made worse by class issues

The Stardust — a tragedy made worse by class issues

TERRIBLE THINGS can happen in life, can’t they? Terrible accidents and terrible tragedies. Sometimes someone is at fault and sometimes it is just an awful thing.

Sometimes, though, there is a context that stares out at us, that stares us in the face.

If you were in the Stardust nightclub in Artane, Dublin, on the night of the February 14, 1981, you were almost certainly young and working class. Not quite at that time, but just two or three years later, I started going to clubs just like that. In fact I used to regularly go to a nightclub in my own area of Birmingham that had a very notorious reputation. If you weren’t working class, and Irish or West Indian, you didn’t go near that place. I loved it. I was young and foolish and the place was alive and great craic.

I used to, too at that time, go to a lot of football matches when football matches were almost entirely the preserve of working class youths deeply attached to their inner city football clubs. In fact just by coincidence I was in Sheffield on the day of the Hillsborough tragedy and had half-talked with a mate about trying to go the game.

We all remember what happened at that match and we’ve all seen how respectable society and media like The Sun newspaper besmirched and traduced the memory of those innocent ninety six people. Ninety-six innocent people who just went to a football match, lost their lives, and were found guilty afterwards of being working class.

Forty eight young people died at the Stardust nightclub, on that night in Dublin in 1981, when fire ripped through the place. The sober, level headed, widely respected RTE reporter Charlie Bird said this of what happened: “If this had happened in Annabelles or anywhere around Dublin 4 or Dublin 6, the inquiries would not have been going on for forty, fifty years.”

The renowned Irish actor Liam Cunningham, whose sister was in the Stardust nightclub that evening and survived, said this: “These working class people were blamed. It was disgusting. And it’s still going on, the disregard. So the people just felt swept under the carpet and were full of anger and quite rightly.”

They went out in 1981 and never came home and in 2023 there is still an inquest ongoing. This is not to make crass political points out of something so truly awful. This is merely to state what is so blindingly clear. Do you think if that nightclub had been full of the children and young adults from middle class homes, with a parent a doctor or a solicitor or a TD, that this would still be rumbling on?

That is not to be so monstrous as to wish that pain on those families instead but it has to be pointed out that only young people from certain families had to socialise in places where doors were chained shut.

One of the families of a child killed that night recalled Charlie Haughey coming to their door afterwards and turning at the door to wave to the media. Families have spoken at length, decade after decade, about their feelings of being blamed, being disregarded, being treated in a way that you only get if you are from certain sections of society.

This is not about using an unbelievably awful tragedy, the deaths of young people dancing, to score political points. It is simply about pointing out the truth. It is simply about pointing out the consequences of class. The consequences of class in a country, Ireland, that claims to be free of the class system.

It seems, at best, superfluous to write about tragedy. It seems, at worst, exploitative.

But it can also be an act of solidarity. The families of the Stardust victims are still seeking justice from a system that has treated them with unbearable contempt. And that is quite clearly, quite obviously, to do with their class. It is to do with their status in Irish society. That is not to conjecture. That is to state fact. We have, after all, a long history in this country of treating certain sections of society in a certain way, using industrial schools, or Magdalene laundries, or simply the boat. They went out to dance and they never came home and I think that could have been you, couldn’t it? Because it certainly could have been me.


Joe Horgan tweets at