Man arrested over 1987 house fire that killed two children and aunt

Suspect for Kilcock, Co Kildare blaze,aged in his 50s, was known to member of family at time

A man in his 50s has been arrested in connection with a house fire that killed two small children and their aunt 30 years ago.

Kerrie Byrne (3) Mary Ellen Byrne (8) and Barbara Doyle (aged 20) died at the children's home in Church Lane, Kilcock, Co Kildare on September 20th, 1987.

The man was arrested by gardaí in north county Dublin on Tuesday afternoon and is being held at Leixlip Garda Station under Section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1984.

The man being detained for questioning this afternoon is a suspect in the case. He was known to at least one member of the wider Doyle family.


The Irish Times understands the relationship between the arrested man and a member of the wider Doyle family has known to gardai at the time of the fire 30 years ago.

However, it was never established at the time the fatal blaze was deliberate. And so the deaths of the children and their aunt were never classified as homicides.

At the time there was also no evidence to link the man now under arrest to the fire or even to the area where the house is located.

Last week gardaí said new evidence had come to light in the case. They did not comment on its nature but said the case had been elevated to a murder inquiry as a result.

Although the case was never closed, it received additional attention in the last five years by members of the Garda Serious Crime Review Team which delves into cold case files.

"We are satisfied that there are people who will remember this fire and the deaths of Barbara, Mary Ellen, and Kerrie, and who have not yet spoken to gardaí," said Chief Superintendent Gerard Roche, launching a fresh appeal for information at Leixlip Garda station last week.

Barbara Doyle was babysitting the girls on the night of the fire, which began between 3am and 4am. While it was extensively investigated, the case remained open.

Birthday party

The children's parents Elizabeth and Aidan Byrne were at a local 21st birthday celebration at the time. Aidan died in 2013 and Elizabeth continues to live at the same address which was rebuilt after the blaze.

Photographs from 1987 show the home cordoned off with a gutted roof, broken glass and fire damaged walls. A report at the time said Elizabeth and Aidan had arrived home from the birthday celebration to find their home in flames. Foul play was not initially suspected, it said.

The children and their aunt are buried together in a family plot at a local cemetery.

The home in Kilcock where the fire broke out is one of three old fashioned village houses in the quiet Church Lane area, near to an old cemetery and a local church.

Chief Supt Roche would not say how investigators came by new evidence but said a full team had been established at an incident room in Leixlip and had been conducting inquiries for a number of months.

“Everything has been looked at, especially in relation to motive,” he said.

“At this time we are not commenting on the nature of the evidence that we are now in possession of but we have carried out inquiries, extensive inquiries, in relation to it and we are satisfied that as a result of those investigations to upgrade this now to a murder.

“Investigators from time to time would have revisited the case over the years but it is in the last five years really that it has been looked at, reviewed and the assistance of the Serious Crime Review Team called in.”

A family liaison officer has been appointed to assist Mrs Byrne as is standard procedure with murder inquiries. She does not have any other children.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times