Sunday, June 3, 2012

Christy Moore and the political power of a song

"Slaughter, that's what it was. That place is basically a graveyard."
Parent of a victim of the Stardust fire on the 30th anniversary

There are few more political singer songwriters than the legendary Irish musician Christy Moore.
Not only does he write profoundly political songs. Christy Moore is a commited political activist who endorses and participates in a range of left wing and radical causes.

But with one song released in 1985- They Never Came Home- Christy Moore so openly challenged the Irish political establishment that he was charged and prosecuted for contempt and his song banned in Ireland.

Indeed, Christy Moore is the only person prosecuted as a result of one of Ireland's worst and most controversial fires- all because he wrote a song about it.

In 1985 Christy Moore wrote the song They Never Came Home about the plight of the victims of the 1981 Stardust Valentines Day fire, at a crowded Dublin night club in which 48 young people died and another 214 people were maimed and injured. It was one of the worst fires in Dublin and Irish history.

Moore's song advocated for justice for the victims and pointed responsibility at the Irish Government and the owners of the Stardust disco, a wealthy and well connected family. The song originally appeared on his 1985 album Ordinary Man but soon after its release he was charged with and found guilty of contempt over the song.

At the time of the album's release an investigation into the Stardust fire in 1981 had concluded (wrongly it was later found) that the cause was most likely arson, although this finding was heavily contested by victims' families and survivors. However, the result was that Moore's song lyrics were deemed libelous and the album was recalled and re-released without the song, and the song banned.

Moore's song captured the outrage and injustice felt by the victims families and those who survived. Despite the original inquiry finding that the owners had acted with "reckless disregard" for the safety of the club users, the management and owners of the Stardust night club (who were a wealthy and well connected Dublin family with political connections to the Irish establishment) were never held responsible in any way.

Indeed, the owners financially benefited from the fire. Because the original Inquiry found that the cause of the fire was probably arson, the owners were paid 585, 000 Irish pounds in compensation, while the victims' families and survivors had to battle the courts for years for any compensation.

The families of the victims and the survivors have continued to fight for justice and accountability for those who died in the fire. In 2009 they succeeded in getting the flawed finding of arson overturned. However, there is still no official verdict about what happended and the Government refuses to open a re-investigation of the fire's cause.

In 2011 on the 30th anniversary of the fire the families gathered to honor those who died and called once again for a fresh investigation into what happended. The Stardust Victims' Committee was planning to present a case for a fresh investigation before the European Court of Justice.
Ownership of the building has remained with the family who owned it in 1981 and there have been ongoing protests and disputes by the victims families  over the use of the site for
the owners' financial benefit. Victims families have opposed plans to exploit the site and continue to push for a full inquiry into what actually happended the night of Valentines Day in 1981.

Christy Moore has taken to playing the song in his live concerts. A You Tube version of the original song is here.
Christy Moore
They Never Came Home

St. Valentine's day comes around once a year,
All our thought turn to love as the day it draws near,
When sweethearts and darlings, husbands and wives,
Pledge love and devotion for the rest of their lives.
As day turns to evening soon nighttime does fall,
Young people preparing for the Valentine's Ball,
As the night rings with laughter some people still mourn
The 48 children who never came home.
Have we forgotten the suffering and pain
the survivors and victims of the fire in Artane,
the mothers and fathers forever to mourn
the 48 children who never came home.
Down to the Stardust they all made their way
The bouncers stood back as they lined up to pay
The records are spinning there's dancing as well
Just how the fire started sure no one can tell.
In a matter of seconds confusion did reign
The room was in darkness fire exits were chained
The firefighters wept for they could not hide,
Their anger and sorrow for those left inside.
All around the city the bad news it spread
There's a fire in the Stardust there's 48 dead
Hundreds of children are injured and maimed
And all just because the fire exits were chained.
Our leaders were shocked, grim statements were made
They shed tears in the graveyard as the bodies were laid
The victims have waited in vain for 4 years
It seems like our leaders shed crocodile tears.
Half a million was spent on solicitor's fees,
A fortune to the owner and his family
It's hard to believe not one penny came
To the working class people who suffered the pain.
Days turn to weeks and weeks turn to years
Our laws favour the rich or so it appears
A woman still waits for her lads to come home
Injustice breeds anger and that's what's been done.
 copyright  and words by Christy Moore

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