Biddy Duffy was on nursing duty at the Mater Hospital in Dublin when ambulances arrived with casualties from the Stardust fire in 1981.

The fire killed 48 people and injured a further 241 in the early hours of Valentine’s Day.

Biddy said Thursday’s ambulance fire outside Naas General Hospital in which a man died reminded her of the disco fire: “It really brought it all back to me. I know it was an ambulance but there was a man inside it, and two paramedics were trying to save him.”

Biddy, who retired from nursing 10 years ago, joined more than 300 nurses spanning 70 years of nursing care yesterday when the hospital celebrated 125 years of nursing education.

She was on duty in the hospital’s coronary care unit on February 14, 1981, when she got a phone call at 2.20am that patients were being brought in with burns.

“I remember a porter, Joe Cahill, who has since died, saying he wanted all of our scissors as there were bad burns in casualty,” she said. “I went to casualty to help. All hell had broke loose there, and the cry for water was terrible.”

Biddy said she could never forget one particularly badly injured girl in the intensive care unit: “I don’t want to give her name, but she was identified by her signet ring. That was very hard. The smell of burning flesh was terrible.”

Since the first class of 16 student nurses arrived for training at the hospital in 1991, the Mater has seen almost 20,000 nurses graduate.

The hospital’s director of nursing, Tanya King, said some nurses made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of their duties.

There was Mary Danaher, who died while volunteering in the First World War in Gaza — and a wreath is being laid in her memory there.

A descendant of Mary is Dervilla Danaher, the physiotherapy manager at the Mater, whose mother is also a former Mater nurse.

Tanya King’s daughter, Natasha is a staff nurse at the Mater and works in the acute medicine unit.

“I think I had a really great role model in my mother. The girls do not pay any heed to the fact that I am the boss’s daughter,” said Natasha.

Tanya was appointed as the director of nursing after Natasha became a student nurse: “I am very proud of Natasha. The whole hospital knows I am very proud of her. I don’t think she minds me being around too much.”


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