1981 – The Stardust Ballroom in Artane, Dublin goes up in flames; 48 young people are killed and more than 100 are injured.

Forty-eight young people die in a fire at the Stardust club in Artane, Dublin. After sitting for 122 days and hearing evidence from three hundred and sixty-three witnesses, a government report found that the fire was ‘probably started deliberately,’ a finding long deemed contentious. The 2009 Report of Reopened Enquiry found that “on a prima facie basis:

(1) that neither the Tribunal nor the Committee have identified any evidence which can establish the cause of the fire;

(2) that the new and other evidence relied upon by the Committee at its highest merely establishes that the fire began in the roof space but does not establish its point of origin or cause.

Christy Moore was renowned for performing socially conscious songs that covered topics ranging from Travellers’ rights to the conflict in Northern Ireland. No stranger to controversy, Moore’s emotive ballads about the hunger strikes of 1981 had been banished from the airwaves. One of his most popular songs, ‘Back Home in Derry’, was banned after the authorities realised it was written by the late Bobby Sands, who died on hunger strike three months after the Stardust tragedy. The reaction on that occasion was no surprise to him. But little did the singer realise how much trouble he would be in over a song about a fire in Artane.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, Moore wanted to write a song in honour of the Stardust victims. The song’s title came about after he heard a mother tell a television reporter that her daughters went out one night ‘but they never came home’. Moore’s acute sense of injustice was heightened by the fact that the families and victims had yet to receive any compensation for their loss and suffering. By this stage, the Butterlys had settled their malicious damages claim against Dublin Corporation. The irony of the situation was not lost on the singer.

After enjoying considerable success in the 1970s, both as a solo artist and with the influential traditional Irish group Planxty, Moore hit the big time in 1984 with his ‘Ride On’ album. His eagerly awaited follow-up, ‘Ordinary Man’, was released during the summer of 1985. The Stardust song, ‘They Never Came Home’, was the second last track on the album. The record was officially launched in O’Donoghue’s pub on Merrion Row in Dublin on 29 July. Journalist Gene Kerrigan, writing for Magill magazine at the time, noted: There were good songs on the album but the most deeply felt was ‘They Never Came Home’ – the Stardust song.

Just days after the launch, Clive Hudson of WEA, Moore’s record label, received a letter from legal representatives of the Stardust owners. It claimed ‘They Never Came Home’ was in contempt of court. it contained, they contended, a comment on matters still before the courts. The album was already in the shops and had been receiving considerable airplay on the radio. WEA was forced to recall the album from record stores and contact radio stations, urging them not to broadcast the song in case the allegation of contempt was upheld in court.

Moore was stunned. It had never entered his mind that the song would be the subject of a legal challenge. ‘In my innocence I didn’t have the song vetted,’ he recalls. ‘We just went for it and I suppose that anybody who had heard the song prior to its release assumed that it was telling the truth.’

Photo: A memorial in Coolock, Dublin to the 48 people who died at the Stardust night club


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