Updated: 14/02/15 : 09:04:27
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'Age shall not weary them nor the years condemn'

By Eugene McGloin

IT REMAINS the most memorable news bulletin I have ever heard on Irish radio.

Saturday morning, 8am, February 14th 1981. I knew the drill for the day ahead off by heart from all the other years, from all the other parties.

Rise, shower, shave -- no beard then! -- and make way across the city, to the ONLY place to be that Saturday....Bloodbuzz Ballsbridge.

Oh, and pick up a rose en route. It was Valentines Day, the saint of love was buried in this city that I loved and still love above all other counties.

You'd be joining Valentine in his crypt if you forgot the flowers! That was the rehearsed main message en route to Charlie holding court.

Meanwhile, men and women would gather all day, grind, grump and be glad all for the good of The Party.

Anything up to 7,000 would unite to 'arise and follow Charlie' to Ballsbridge. It would make their blood buzz, as always.

Mr Haughey was about to launch his election '81 campaign and would seek to retain Fianna Fail's massive overall majority.

That was all in the script but the silence after the radio news at 8am that Saturday rotated the worlds we all knew. Fianna Fáil abandoned its Ard Fheis.

Forty eight young people had died in a fire hours ago in the Stardust Club in Artane, the radio reported.

While we slept in a back bedroom, the streets outside had screamed with sirens of ambulances and brigades.

Never Came Home

Mere miles away an unrecognisable world was unfolding for stricken families.

Less than a mile away the city morgue was like a mausoleum. As day began the families' long nightmare was only beginning.

The death-stalk was remorseless -- street upon street, door upon door, unslept bed after unslept bed, many of those unslept beds under the same roof.

Tiny tots lost both parents in the fire which engulfed the Valentines event.

''They never came home,'' a mother of three teenagers would say, her new world unfolded in four words for all the world to hear sorrowfully.

Her husband was a city fireman but off duty that night as Friday the 13th slipped into Saturday February the 14th 1981.

A future colleague Myles Byrne was a photographer who had just returned from a lifetime working in Sydney.

He had his shins kicked as he snapped photos of blackened survivors for the Irish Press.

Myles went home to try and rest after seeing the Stardust. He was woken by one of his children, a world away in Australia, already Sunday.

They had just seen his photo in the Sydney Morning Herald Ireland's tragedy, in pre email era, had traversed the universe while he was in bed.

Shine Headlights

The country convulsed all through 1981. Ten hunger strikers died and 100,000 turned out for Bobby Sands burial. The general election was inconclusive.

Heroin hit Irish streets for the first time and the IRA entered a King Herod mode by killing several Northern security members immediately after their wives had given birth.

Something else. A husband and wife would sometimes drive into a graveyard in Dublin after dark and shine the headlights on the photos of their daughters, Martina and Mary.

Aged 17, Martina had her eye on a guy. She scribbled in pen and marker a prophetic Valentine/prayer message to David Morton. It would be a final Valentine for both; both died.

                The memorial card for Dublin teenagers Mary and Martina Keegan

Senator Fergal Quinn knew so many of the dead personally. He was their employer. David He had already earmarked as a branch manager.

John, now deceased, and Christina Keegan and their daughter Antoinette have taken the fight for justice forward day by day, year by year, decade by decade. The State continues to crawl.

Heading up to the 'first Christmas' I'd knocked at many of their doors, spent a full week at it.

So many kindly invited us in, made tea and took time to re-tell the tale of their profound loss.

Jimmy Fitzpatrick loved to play drums but his hands were burned fiercely when, having escaped, he went back into the fire to try and save friends.

For a long time he belonged to the ranks of the 'living dead,' the worst of the 215 injured. His optimism was chastening.

The brother of Eugene Hogan, who died, cautioned this type of media event should not ''become a perpetual Aberfan.''

Those words were a powerful evocation of a previous multiple tragedy for young people.

Young people, all young people: 'Age shall not weary them nor the years condemn.'

It seemed useful to start the lengthy feature with some words borrowed from the ages.

The words belong to a war whose collective dead  -- and whose individual dead --  we are remembering right now.

They failed to even soften several sleepless nights subsequent to stepping inside homes and then stepping away from as media do.

But words have their own way, they work in their own time. Why else do we ever write Valentines; we hope our words 'will work,' someday!

Stardust homesteads had been dry-bleached of their simplest dreams, their homes had been left bereft by bereavement and by how death came, literally and illiberally, like a Thief in the Night.

The memorial garden to the 48 Stardust dead which emerged in later years erected a small tasteful plaque with each of their names.

It also reads: ''Age shall not weary them nor the years condemn, at the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them.''