Aoife Moore: Christine Keegan battled such extraordinary sadness with little complaint

Aoife Moore: Christine Keegan battled such extraordinary sadness with little complaint
Christine Keegan holds a picture of the daughters she lost in the Stardust fire, Martina and Mary, along with a piece of evidence the relatives have submitted showing the fire at the Stardust coming through the roof 10 minutes before the fire brigade were called, outside Leinster House. Picture: Laura Hutton/RollingNews.ie

Some ordinary people are made extraordinary by things in their life they cannot control.

Christine Keegan who died on Tuesday, was one of those people.

She, along with her husband John, lost their two teenage daughters Mary and Martina in the Stardust fire on Valentines Day 1981. Their third daughter Antoinette survived the fire, spending weeks in hospital recovering, during which the heartbroken parents kept the news from her that her sisters had died.

Christine, who did not ask for this purpose in life, campaigned from the day after the fire until the day she died for justice for her daughters, and the 46 other young people who died in the blaze.

Some people command a sense of respect without saying very much, this too was Christine.

She was quiet and stoic. She welcomed journalists to her home where she would relay the worst night of her life, waking up to the news and rushing to her daughters rooms to find they didn’t come home from what was supposed to be a very ordinary night of teenage revelry.

She cried quietly at times, each knock back taking their toll. Each inquest that incorrectly labelled the dead as arsonists, or when the owner of the building won compensation from Dublin corporation, while parents without their children made do, carrying their sadness like a cross on their back.

Antoinette Keegan and her mother Christine nd Eugene Kelly outside Buswells Hotel in Dublin today. Antoinette and Christine are holding pictures of Antoinette sisters who perished in the fire, Martina (16) and Mary (19). Picture: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie
Antoinette Keegan and her mother Christine nd Eugene Kelly outside Buswells Hotel in Dublin today. Antoinette and Christine are holding pictures of Antoinette sisters who perished in the fire, Martina (16) and Mary (19). Picture: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

When I first met Christine, she was the first to tell me: “If this was in Donnybrook, not Bonnybrook, people would care,” and who can blame her?

The Leinster House of 1981 didn’t care much for the plight of their northside neighbours.

Like a beacon of working class resolve, they kept on, determined.

Antoinette who has spent her life at her mother’s side spoke at times of giving up, but said looking at Christine pushed her on until they won.

A fresh inquest was granted by the Attorney General last year and has been put on pause due to Covid-19. Christine, arguably the most prominent parent, was one of the few left, as time and life trundles on, sweeping what remaining parents there were living without their babies up with the wind.

Christine was denied seeing her life’s dream realised, like she was denied a life with her daughters. A woman who battled such extraordinary sadness with little complaint, like hundreds of Irish women before her, and that alone should be Ireland’s greatest source of shame.

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