The only surviving family member of one of the Stardust victims has told the inquest of how her father encouraged her 21-year-old brother to move to Dublin from Belfast to keep him “out of harm’s way” and away from the Troubles in the North at the time.
Delivering a pen portrait of James (Jim) Millar at the inquest on Tuesday, his sister Laura said that decision had always come back “to haunt our dad”, adding he blamed himself for Jim’s death.
She said her younger brother, Martin, who was just 12 at the time, also “blamed himself” for his brother’s death as the last time he had seen Jim the pair got into a “silly argument” and as Jim walked out the door, Martin shouted after him: “I wish you were dead”.
“He was only 12 years old, but he closed himself up, and it was weeks before we learned what had taken place,” Laura told the jury at Dublin Coroner’s Court. She said he blamed himself for what happened right up until his death three years ago and “never got over it”.
Laura said she and her friend Patsy had been due to travel to Dublin to attend the Stardust dance competition with Jim and his friends, but decided not to go when the time came.
She relayed how her brother had travelled the world in the Merchant Navy before returning home to Dublin to settle down and raise a family with his fiancee Marion.
Laura said she was telling Jim’s story as all of their family members have died, and she is the only one left to tell it.
He had his whole life ahead of him
Jim grew up in Belfast one of five children, three boys and two girls, she said. Laura was the oldest, Jim was next and as there was only 18 months between them, they were “always close” and she would follow Jim and his friends around.
“Jim was my brother, but he was also my best friend, and he had his whole life ahead of him.”
The last Christmas before he died, Jim came to Belfast for a visit and met Laura’s son for the first time.
“We really had a wonderful Christmas, everybody together again,” she said.
He and his friends were living in a houseshare in Dublin while he saved for a house of his own to live in when he and Marion got married, but that was “never going to be”, she said.
“Jim was a beautiful person and a loving son and brother and uncle,” Laura added. “Waving him goodbye after Christmas, little did we know it was the last time we would see him alive.”
She said they parted with plans to see each other again in Dublin on Valentine’s weekend, as Jim had invited her and her friend Patsy down and had booked tickets for the dance competition in the Stardust.
“We never made it down as things happened at home, so we couldn’t go,” Laura explained.
She said as they had not gone down for the dance, some of Jim’s friends decided to work over Valentine’s weekend instead, but Jim and one of his pals went to the disco that night.
When the fire was reported the next day in the paper, there was some confusion as Jim’s fiancee had phoned to say “not to worry” because Jim had said he was not going.
However, at 6pm that evening, Jim’s father was at home alone when the police called to the house to tell him the news.
“We were told his cry could be heard all over the estate,” Laura said. “So many lives were destroyed that night and to see my mum and dad going to pieces was heart-breaking.”
She said no one in the family ever got over what happened.
“Everybody keeps saying to us, we were lucky to have not gone down that weekend. I have never seen it that way. Maybe seeing justice being done will help a little, but it’s been a long time coming. Too long. Maybe then they all can rest in peace at last, RIP,” Laura concluded.