A verdict of death due to misadventure has been recorded at the inquests into the deaths of a brother and sister who drowned when swimming together in Ballybunion, Co Kerry last August.
The cause of the deaths of both Desmond Byrne (51), Carrigeen More, Le Carrow, Roscommon and his sister Muriel Eriksson (62), Malmo, Sweden on August 4th, 2022 at the Men’s Beach, Ballybunion was “accidental drowning”.
The inquest in Listowel on Friday morning heard from 17 witnesses including holidaymakers and lifeguards who were on the beach shortly before 6pm on the Thursday afternoon, as well as from the partner of the late Mr Byrne.
Lifeguards had been on the alert all summer for rip currents in Ballybunion and had been trying to keep people from entering the area where the current was.
On the evening of the tragedy four lifeguards were on duty when normally there would be five or six, the inquest heard.
Josh Byrne (13), the son of Desmond Byrne, was also in the water but had managed to get ashore safely.
Coroner Helen Lucey said it was “nothing short of a miracle that Josh is alive today”.
The coroner paid a particular tribute to 15-year-old Ruairí Walsh of Cork who was on his surfboard in the water. He showed “sensitivity beyond his years”, the coroner said. Ruairí saw Josh in difficulty and kept him under observation in a very “sensitive way”. He had also shown “impeccable behaviour” in raising the alarm in relation to Desmond Byrne, Ms Lucey said.
Ms Lucey brought in two recommendations with her verdict. There should be a minimum of five or six lifeguards be on the Men’s and Ladies’ beaches in Ballybunion during high season and at times when a lot of people were around. In addition, she said, people should be given an oral warning if there is something in the nature of a rip current.
Angie O’Keeffe from Killarney had waded into the water in front of the lifeguard hut and she and her brother saw something floating in the water. The man was unresponsive and she yelled at Ruairí Walsh, according to her deposition read by Insp Tim O’Keeffe.
Ruairí Walsh of Carrigrohane, Cork was on holiday at the time with his parents in their mobile home in Ballybunion. At 6pm he was surfing in the water and he saw there was a rip current in front of Castle Green.
“I knew this as I do sailing courses,” he said.
He saw a young boy chest deep in the rip current and observed him as he got back safely on shore.
He was altered by a scream from near the shore and saw a man face down in the water and started waving with his surfboard over his head to get the attention of lifeguards. He also gave the arm lift sign to bring first aid.
Head lifeguard Domnic Horgan from Tralee said the rip current had been very bad “and that was our main priority all summer”. There had been two lifeguards on each beach, and there were flags to indicate where to swim, he replied to questions from Ms Lucey. The lifeguards were also blowing whistles to keep people away from the rip current.
Paulette Daly, partner of the late Desmond Byrne, said in a deposition read to the inquest “our hearts are broken” by the loss.
Ms Lucey extended her sympathy to Ms Daly and all of Mr Byrne’s family. Ms Eriksson’s husband had since died in Sweden, the coroner noted.