Second Ballybunion victim named as gardaí seek to establish how tragedy unfolded

Taoiseach among those to express sadness over incident that claimed lives of Desmond Byrne and his sister, Muriel Eriksson

Gardaí in Co Kerry have renewed their appeal for any witnesses to Thursday evening’s double drowning at Ballybunion to come forward as the identity of the second victim became known.

Muriel Eriksson, a 62-year-old Irishwoman who was home on holidays from Sweden where she was living, was discovered in the water having drowned along with her brother, Dessie Byrne (50).

Mr Byrne, who was originally from Athlone, was living in Lecarrow, Co Roscommon, while Ms Eriksson had an address in Malmo, Sweden.

Mr Byrne’s teenage son, the only other family member on the beach at the time with his father and aunt, had raised the alarm and was said to be deeply traumatised by the event.

Ballybunion was the scene of a previous double fatality in mid-August 1992 when a father and his son from Co Clare were drowned after being trapped by the tide while exploring local caves. Tony McCarthy (50) and his son, Aidan (10), of Tulla, Co Clare, were on the last day of their holiday.

On this occasion, the possibility that the victims were caught in a rip current, or a powerful fast current of water from a beach, is one of the areas investigators are looking into, amid continuing uncertainty as to what led to the tragedy.

Such currents, often mistakenly called rip tides, can occur as waves are coming in. The sea was coming in at the time of the tragedy, locals have said.

It has also emerged that rescuers continued to search after the bodies of the brother and sister were recovered, amid fears a third person was missing. “The search operation continued until such time that it was confirmed that no other persons were unaccounted for,” a coastguard spokeswoman told The Irish Times.

A carpet fitter by trade, Mr Byrne had lived in Lecarrow with his partner, Paulette, and their two sons, Josh and Dean.

Originally from Baylough, Athlone, he was involved in many local community groups including the cycling club Lecarrow Lazers.

Describing the deaths as a “terrible tragedy” that had caused deep sorrow in the locality, local Independent councillor Laurence Fallon said Mr Byrne was very popular and was the type of neighbour who was always willing to help anyone in need.

“He was quiet and unassuming, never one to seek the limelight,” said Cllr Fallon. “He was a great family man, devoted to his partner and his two sons, and he was always there if anyone needed help.

“A few years ago when neighbours worked round the clock to try to keep flood waters from Lough Funshinagh out of a house in the locality, he was part of that 24-hour rota. That was typical of the man”.

Dessie’s sister Muriel was found by a local rescue boat minutes after her brother was taken from the water.

Their bodies were taken by ambulance to the mortuary in University Hospital Kerry and a postmortem examination was due to take place on Friday.

Speaking during a visit to Tarbert, Co Kerry, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he was “deeply shocked and saddened at this very tragic and heartbreaking loss of lives on what was a beautiful day”.

He said he wanted to extend his sincere sympathies to the family and friends of the bereaved and “particularly to those family members who were present who witnessed this tragedy”.

Noel Galvin, chairman of the Lecarrow Lazers cycling club, said Mr Byrne frequently participated in charity cycles and was always available to help the club.

“He will be missed. He was very active in the parish and was always helping out in one way or the other,” Mr Galvin told RTÉ Radio’s News at One.

“It was terrible news to get. Lecarrow is known for rallying together and we will rally around the family.”

People were finding it difficult to comprehend what had happened, Mr Galvin said. “The news was horrifying to hear.”

Mr Galvin extended his condolences to the Byrne family and Mr Byrne’s wide circle of friends. “We will be there for them.”

Rip current graphic by Paul Scott

Earlier on Thursday, Kerry councillor Robert Beasley said people in Ballybunion were “shocked beyond belief” following the double drowning of the siblings.

The alarm was raised some time before 7pm when the Irish Coast Guard Marine Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Valentia received a call and a large search and rescue operation was put into place.

The Irish Coast Guard Sikorsky helicopter Rescue 115 was tasked from Shannon while both the Ballybunion community inshore rescue boat and Kilrush RNLI lifeboat were also launched.

The body of one of the swimmers was brought ashore while the operation was being launched and the person was pronounced dead by a local GP as the search operation for the second person began.

The second casualty was recovered from the water by the Ballybunion community inshore rescue boat and brought ashore where they too were pronounced dead by the local GP.

Insp Tim O’Keeffe of Listowel Garda station said the weather was good at the time of the tragedy. There had been a number of people on the beach and gardaí appealed to anyone there as the tragedy unfolded to come forward.

Gardaí were making the appeal especially so the family of the deceased would know exactly what happened, Insp O’Keeffe said.

Vivienne Clarke

Vivienne Clarke is a media monitor and reporter

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times