Fresh appeal over arson attack that killed two girls and aunt

Mother says the Co Kildare attack, 30 years ago, took her ‘babies and life’s dream’

The family of two young girls and their 20-year-old aunt who were killed in an arson attack 30 years ago have appealed for information to help solve the case, saying it would bring them peace.

Remembering the night of the fire, the family recalled how the bodies of the children and their aunt were taken from the family home in three black bags.

Kerrie Byrne (5), Mary Ellen Byrne (8) and their aunt Barbara Doyle (20), died at the children's home in Church Lane, Kilcock, Co Kildare on September 20th, 1987.

In September, the deaths were upgraded to homicides after a Garda cold case review.


A man was arrested for questioning at the time it emerged the case was being treated as a treble homicide.

The suspect, who gardaí believe was targeting Barbara Doyle in the fire, was released without charge.

The Garda’s investigation is continuing and now the family has appealed for information in the hope of a breakthrough.

On the night of the fire, Barbara Doyle was babysitting her nieces for her sister Elizabeth Byrne and her husband Aidan Byrne, who were at a 21st birthday party.

Speaking to RTÉ's Crimecall programme, Elizabeth Byrne remembered her murdered children and sister as her "life's dream".

“They were brilliant babies...Mary Ellen being reserved and Kerrie being the ‘divil’, playing the tricks on the neighbours,” she said.

“And Mary Ellen used to say ‘Oh ma you’ll never guess what she’s after doing..!’.”

Ms Byrne and her sister Pamela Doyle said their deceased sister Barbara was about to turn 21 at the time and was planning her birthday party.

"Barbara was more sensible and probably got stuck looking after us a lot more then she probably wanted… she was a great sister," Pamela Doyle also told Crimecall.

Ms Byrne said the night of the fire was a normal Saturday night. “I put Kerrie to bed and read her a story and she was asleep. I came down and Barbara had arrived, and herself and Mary Ellen were sitting here. I went out to meet Aidan and we went to the party.”

When the couple returned they found the house ablaze. Pamela Doyle said she also rushed to the house when she heard it was on fire.

“We just didn’t know where anyone was,” Ms Doyle said of her sister and two nieces inside.

“We looked for them and couldn’t find them. Then when the firemen got into the house, we were told they were here.

“I just remember them taking Mary Ellen, Kerrie and Barbara in three black bags.”

Ms Byrne said it was “so hard to believe” the fire had taken her two daughters and sister.

“In the blink of an eye your whole life could be devastated. We lost everything; our family, our two girls, Barbara, our home.”

“You go through the years. And even now their friends are all getting married. So we missed out on all of that.”

Pamela Doyle said a breakthrough in the investigation would help the family even after 30 years.

"We would find peace knowing what happened to them that night," she said, while also directly appealing on Crimecall to the person who set the fire.

“If the person responsible is watching... you’ve had 30 years walking around with this.

“I don’t know how anyone could walk around for 30 minutes with that on their conscience. They’ve had a life for the last 30 years. Barbara, Mary Ellen and Kerrie haven’t. It’s time you came forward.”

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times