Inquest hears 19-year-old drank pint glass of spirits

Jonathan Byrne (19) had fear of water but jumped in river as part of Neknomination

 Jonathan (Jonny) Byrne of  Tomard, Leighlinbridge, Co Carlow  lost his life on February 1st, 2014 at Milford Bridge

Jonathan (Jonny) Byrne of Tomard, Leighlinbridge, Co Carlow lost his life on February 1st, 2014 at Milford Bridge


A 19-year-old County Carlow man consumed a cocktail of three brands of spirits in a pint glass as part of a Neknominate social media challenge, before stripping down to his shorts and jumping into the swollen River Barrow and drowning, an adjourned inquest heard on Monday.

The inquest resumed at Carlow Courthouse into the death of Jonathan (Jonny) Byrne, Tomard, Leighlinbridge, Co Carlow, who lost his life on February 1st, 2014 at Milford Bridge.

The inquest heard the victim couldn’t swim and had a fear of water.

Patrick Byrne, the victim’s older brother, stated in a deposition that on February 1st last year his brother Jonny rang him about a Neknomination he wanted to undertake away from the Byrne family home. “Jonny never drank in front of either of my parents” Patrick stated.

Patrick arrived home from Athlone in Tomard around 5.45 pm. “When I got home Jonny was coming down the stairs. I went to the toilet and when I came back Jonny was sitting in the back of the car. He had bottles with him. I had a can of Bulmers for the dare as that was what he usually drinks but he left that at home. Jonny would not have taken any drink during the day so he was stone cold sober when he got into the car.

“Jonny wanted to go to Milford to do the nomination. I suggested going down to my aunt’s house where I had a stable for a horse so he could do it in the stable but he said no. We went to Milford. When we got there Emma [Patrick’s girlfriend] stayed in the car. It was raining and cold.

“Jonny and myself got. We went to the little grass patch. Jonny took out the three bottles. I took out my phone and started to record the video.

“Jonny poured the mixture of three drinks into a pint glass. He poured Piranha, Captain Morgans and Jameson into a pint glass. He took a few minutes to drink it off. When he finished the pint I started recording. I turned around to see where Emma was but left the camera recording Jonny.”

When he looked back from Emma, Jonny had stripped down to his shorts. “I thought when Jonny was stripping down it was part of the dare. I then said: ‘Jonny are you right’ – for him to nominate other people. He had three names in his head to nominate.

“Before I knew it he turned and ran into the river. I knew as soon as he hit the water that he was in trouble. He went into the water and went straight under. He came back up and I heard a shout. I asked was he alright and then I dropped my phone.

“Jonny was caught in the current and he was being pulled into the middle of the weir.”

Patrick jumped straight into the river. “He was so far away from me I had to swim towards him. I got to him and was pulling him backwards towards the bank. I was able to keep his head over the water as I had my arm under his neck. He was panicking,he was kicking, he was splashing.”

Patrick got to the edge of the river bank where he got “one foot up.” “When I got one foot up Jonny broke free of my grasp. He pulled his two arms around my neck and pulled my head under the water. The next thing Emma was pulling me out. I then saw Jonny, his head was down and he was floating away. Emma pulled me up from the water.”

Patrick knew the river was flooded but didn’t pay any attention to the conditions because he didn’t know jumping into the river was part of the dare. “Jonny said nothing to me about going in the water.

“Jonny couldn’t swim and had a fear of water. In primary school he wouldn’t go swimming and he never put his head under the water. I am baffled by what happened. I don’t know what went through his head, he was completely terrified of water.”

Emma Neason, Patrick’s girlfriend stated she was in the car and knew Jonny was carrying something and had suggested they go to the river in Milford to do the nomination. When they got to the river she stayed in the car. Patrick and Jonny got out. “I could see a bit of movement but I couldn’t see anything clearly. The car was parked parallel to where Patrick and Jonny were. “I had my window up so I could not hear what was being said. I didn’t see Jonny jump into the river.”

Ms Neason got out of the car and saw the brothers in the river. She took off her jacket, threw down her phone and jumped into the river, swimming towards the brothers. “By the time I got to where they were, Jonny was gone and Patrick was facing the wall.” She grabbed hold of Patrick and people who were passing pulled him out of the water with a strap. “I had enough energy to swim over the bank and get myself out,” Ms Neason stated.

There had been no mention of Jonny jumping into the river — “I don’t know why he did it” her deposition stated.

Garda Lorcan Byrne, a member of the Garda Support Water Unit at Santry Station told of recovering the body from the River Barrow at Milford at 9.50am on Sunday, February 2nd, 2014, having commenced his search at 9.40am. The body was found in 2.5 metres of water.

Dr Brendan Doyle, Carlow County Coroner, informed the inquest no alcohol was found in the blood or urine samples conducted by Dr Fergus McSweeney pathologist at Waterford Regional Hospital, who determined death was due to drowning.

The coroner said death occurred so quickly after ingestion that there was no time for the alcohol to reach the victim’s blood or urine.

Neknominations had became controversial at the time and it was no consolation to the victim’s family that the publicity surrounding the death probably saved other lives

“Hopefully [the inquest] will bring some closure to everybody involved in this unfortunate incident” the coroner commented.