"More than a brother to me" - Stardust relatives tell inquest of grief 42 years on from tragedy

by Ryan Dunne

The brother of Stardust nightclub victim Jimmy Buckley has spoken of guilt “eating away” at him in the wake of his brother’s death and said that he believes the death by heart attack years later of another brother was also caused by “that horrific night” when fire swept through the Dublin nightclub claiming the lives of 48 people.  

Errol Buckley, whose emotional tribute to his brother Jimmy was read out by Errol’s son Lloyd, told the Coroner’s Court today that Jimmy (23) “was more than a brother to me”.  

“After my father died when I was 12, my mother moved back home to Offaly and I, not wanting to leave the only home I knew in Dublin, stayed. Jimmy took on my parents’ role,” said Mr Buckley.  

“Jimmy was not only a caring and loving brother, he was a very talented singer and  entertainer. He even won a talent show in the Stardust a few months before the fire.”  

Errol was providing a pen portrait of his late brother as part of the inquest taking place at the Pillar Room in the Rotunda Hospital into the tragedy that occurred at the Stardust Ballroom in Artane in the early hours of February 14, 1981. He said that he was dancing in the Valentine’s disco competition in the Stardust that night, which started around midnight. When he was announced as one of the winners, his brother Jimmy “beamed with pride” and jumped up onto the stage to hug him and tell him how proud he was of him.  

“Little did I know, they would be the last words I would ever hear from him,” he said.  

Errol said that outside the Stardust, he was running around for about an hour looking for Jimmy, and after a few hours he gave up, thinking Jimmy must have been taken to one of the hospitals.  

“The next few days were a nightmare, not knowing where he was. Then the guards called to the house and asked us to come to the morgue. Jimmy was eventually identified by his wedding ring,” he said.  

“Guilt was eating away at me. If I hadn’t been dancing that night, Jimmy wouldn’t  have been there.”  

Errol said that his brother Albert and their mother campaigned for justice up until their deaths, with Albert dying from a massive heart attack at the age of 41.  

“The Stardust had claimed another victim as I believe Albert too never really recovered from that horrific night and the loss of Jimmy,” he said.  

Errol Buckley concluded by saying: “You might say, it’s been 40 years, just let it go. Well I ask you, if it was your brother, sister, son, daughter, how would you feel?”  

A further emotional tribute was given by Jimmy Buckley’s widow, Christina Smyth, who said that everyone who met Jimmy and knew him loved him.  

“He was funny and witty and the life and soul of every party. Everyone loved his company,” she said.  

She spoke of how he loved performing for people and won a talent contest for his impression of Elvis. She said his big passion was hurling and she would go along to see him play.  

“He was fierce and brave in play. He also had a great passion for Gaelic football and he played in the minors. He loved to go to Croke Park on a Sunday to watch the Dubs play.”  

“I met this wonderful man when we were teenagers. He was 16 and I was 14. It was love at first sight and we got engaged when I turned 16. I had the honour to marry Jimmy in 1979 and we were so happy. Every day was a laugh living with him.”  

Christina said that the couple were blessed to welcome their beautiful daughter Julieann on February 13, 1980.  

“That is a day I will never forget, as he was so proud and showing her off to everyone and telling all that she was going to be the image of him with blue eyes and blonde hair. He was correct. She has grown up to be like him. She is witty and funny and loving, and a fantastic parent just like he was.”  

She said that on Julieann’s first birthday, Jimmy wanted a big tea party for her to show her off and have everyone come to the house to celebrate, with relations and friends crammed into their little house in Donnycarney.  

“It was a day we will always remember as it was the last time we would all spend together,” she said.  

Christina said that Jimmy’s brother Erroll had made it to the final of the dance competition in the Stardust.  

“I never would have thought this was the last time we would be together or that this would be the night that would change all our lives together,” she said.