Game of Thrones star Liam Cunningham has opened up about his frantic search for his younger sister on the night of the Stardust fire.

Speaking to Katie Hannon for RTÉ's new Upfront Podcast, the acclaimed actor talked about how growing up in Coolock in the 1970s shaped his left-wing political views.

The Stardust fire in February 1981, which claimed the lives of 48 young people, was a defining event for his community.

"I remember exactly where I was. I was up having a lemonade. I was a motorbiker at the time, and, for some reason, I drove past the Stardust just before the fire happened."

Later that night, when he was in bed, he heard what he would later learn was the sound of propane gas tanks exploding.

"[I remember] hearing these noises and thinking, what the hell is that? And then being woken up. One of the neighbours had knocked at our door to say there had been a fire in the Stardust," he said.

His younger sister Maria was at the Stardust that night. So his father and a couple of neighbours whose children were also at the Stardust went off to try to find them.

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"The radio was on, there was live reports and they were saying, ‘there's three dead’. 20 minutes later, ‘there's five dead’. And the number kept going up, and the waiting, as you can imagine, was horrific because, with every increase in the number, it got closer to the possibility that it was one of your own."

"I hopped on the bike and I went straight to the Mater Hospital. And it was carnage. It was like Vietnam," he said.

"There was just squad cars arriving, ambulances arriving, people coming in with blistered hands. I remember being just overwhelmed in the middle of the night with the amount of things going on, the manic nature of it."

He recalled seeing a young man who would have had a reputation as 'definitely someone you'd cross the street to avoid' in the area. "This guy walked in and I recognised him immediately, and his hands had been burnt, so much so that the skin was hanging off the tips of his fingers.

And one of the nurses came over to him, and he was just holding his hands up....she said to him, "look, come over here. I'll look after you."

And he said ....’I'm okay. There's people worse than me. Look after them first.’"

Liam recalls meeting a friend who knew his sister and he told him he had seen her being put into the back of a squad car.

He eventually found her and a friend in Jervis Street Hospital where she was being treated for smoke inhalation.

"I stayed for two minutes, and I said, 'I have to get home. They don't know you're okay. I have to get home.’"

He stopped off on the way at the home of Maria’s friend to let them know she was okay. "Her mother opened the door in her robe, and I just said, ‘look, I've just been to Jervis Street Hospital. I've seen Maria and Catherine. They're okay.’"

"And she punched me in the chest. It was the weirdest thing. She just punched me in the chest, and she called me a liar because she'd been listening to the news reports and was convinced that there was hundreds dead and her daughter was dead. And I had to fend her off. And I just said, 'she's fine. I can't hang around with you. I've told you first. I haven't even told me mom.’"

"I hopped on the back of my bike, and it was 300 yards away. I ran in and told my mom, and then we had no way of getting the message to my dad, who was searching, and I didn't know where he was. It could have been anywhere. It was horrific."

"That was a pretty bad night, but it just got impossibly worse for the victims’ families. The first thing that everybody seemed to do was start finding excuses and trying to blame the people inside."

Saying it was ‘exactly like’ what happened to the victims of the Hillsborough disaster, where the victims were blamed, he added: "It took them so many years to be exonerated purely... because they were working class."

Cunningham recalled a powerful speech by former RTÉ reporter Charlie Bird at the Stardust Memorial who, he said was "absolutely wonderful because he was on the scene that night."

"He was fearless. Everybody was thinking it, but it took Charlie to say it. And Charlie said: 'if this had happened in Annabelle’s or anywhere around Dublin 4 or Dublin 6 or whatever, the inquiries wouldn't have been going on for 40, 50 years...’"

"People were abandoned. These working class people were blamed. It was disgusting. And it's still going on, the disregard. So the people just felt swept under the carpet and were full of anger and quite rightly."

The new inquests into the deaths of the 48 who dies in the Stardust are due to begin on April 19.