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Many of those who stopped to talk outside St Michael’s on Marine Road in Dún Laoghaire on Saturday could remember where they were when the Stardust fire happened.
“It’s after being amazing the response we’re getting,” says Antoinette Keegan, who lost her two sisters, Mary and Martina, that day.
“So many people are stopping and talking about it. They remember where they were, where they lived,” she says.
The fire broke out in the early hours of the morning of 14 February 1981. Forty-eight people were killed. Another 214 people were injured.
Some relatives say they has yet to be accountability. The midday church bells sound as Eugene Kelly takes up his placard, which shows the faces of the victims.
“Justice for Stardust families!” he shouts. Members of this campaign want a new inquiry into the Stardust fire.
“Sign a postcard,” he says.
A 1981 tribunal of inquiry found that the probable cause of the fire was arson.
In 1982, inquests were held into the deaths, but no verdicts were returned and no charges have ever been brought. “What we’re looking for is a verdict,” says Keegan.
In 2009, the tribunal’s finding naming the cause as arson was withdrawn from the record. An independent examination found that there was no evidence that the fire was deliberate.
Keegan holds 100 postcards in her right hand, a blue pen in the other, and asks those passing to sign their names.
As the group gathers signatures, the postcards are dropped into a large plastic box beneath a propped-up central table next to the low church wall dividing the footpath.
“One lady [told us] that her son was an altar boy the day that one of the victims was getting buried,” says Keegan. Her grandson, Adam, runs back and forth, asking those who pass down Marine Road to sign, too.
This campaign continues across generations, says Keegan. “My grandchildren grew up with the Stardust. It’s affected the families so badly.”
“Little man there is after collecting the most,” says her mother, Christine Keegan, sat in her wheelchair, clutching a disposable purple lighter in her left hand, a packet of uncut Players cigarettes in the other.
Keegan has campaigned since shortly after the Stardust fire in which she lost her two daughters.
“And I’m still smoking Players,” she says, smiling a wry, crooked smile, wrapped in a red winter coat despite the 20 degree heat.
“We’re nearly ready to go. I think. We’re after getting loads of [signatures],” she says, surveying the foothpath, the people approaching from George’s Street and down from Convent Road into the main village.
Next stop for Keegan is Grafton Street. Then it’s onto Co. Laois, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan’s constituency.
They expect to campaign throughout the summer, and then deliver each signed postcard to Dáil Éireann, says daughter Antoinette. She guesses that they’ve gathered around 1,000 signatures today.
“Getting the boys a drink, what’d they like?” asks one campaign volunteer, heading towards Dún Laoghaire Shopping Centre.
“Coke,” says Keegan, wearing a blue t-shirt, her blond hair tied up in a pony-tail.
“Just Coke, Coke-Zero?” she asks.
“Just ordinary Coke,” Keegan replies, taking a break in the shade, sitting down on the church wall.
“It’s just unbelievable, the response,” says Eugene Kelly, placard bright in the afternoon sun. “People from the area, I’d like to thank them very much.”
So far in the campaign, which kicked off last week, people have travelled to sign their small, black postcards, the words “TRUTH, 48” written upon the back.
“We shouldn’t have to do this,” says Kelly, whose brother, Robert, died in the Stardust fire. “But we are.”
His brother was 17, says Kelly. Kelly was 23 years old. He was the older brother.
Following his brother’s death, Kelly’s marriage broke up. He moved to London, where he lived for 12 years, returning in the early 2000s to settle back into life in Dublin.
“I’ve had many a nightmare over my brother,” says Kelly. “He was identified through dental charts.”
Kelly, dressed in a chequered cream shirt, holding his placard tightly in both hands, criticises recent developments.
In 2017, retired judge Pat McCartan examined evidence presented by families. McCartan determined, however, that a new inquiry was not warranted, a decision anathema to Kelly.
Stardust families are determined to continue their fight for a fresh inquiry. “I feel this can be our year,” says Kelly, who thanks a local for signing another postcard.
On Wednesday evening, the campaign are holding a public meeting at the Skylon Hotel in Drumcondra to update relatives on the progress of their application to open a fresh inquest.
Each postcard campaign stall lasts about two hours. As 1pm approaches, the group look set to wrap up as 82-year-old Christine Keegan fires up a fresh cigarette.
“It’s never going to go away,” says her daughter Antionette, recalling the night she lost her two sisters. And for many locals, it’s still February 1981, she says.
“It’s still very raw for everybody in the community,” says Keegan. “In the surrounding areas, Coolock, Kilmore, Kilbarrack, Donaghmede, the nightmare of that night still haunts people.”