Murder inquiry into 1987 fire that killed woman and two children

Kerrie Ann Byrne (3), Mary Ellen Byrne (8) and their aunt Barbara Doyle (20) died in Kilcock

Gardaí have opened a murder inquiry into a house fire that killed two small children and their aunt 30 years ago.

The announcement was made on the anniversary of the deaths of Kerrie Byrne (3) Mary Ellen Byrne (8) and Barbara Doyle (aged 20) at the children's home in Church Lane, Kilcock, Co Kildare on September 20th, 1987.

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.

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


"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.

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.

“It’s significant 30 years on that we are doing this appeal. It is a very emotive time for the family; they are quite upset obviously any time an anniversary comes up,” said Chief Supt Roche.

“They (those who died in the fire) have never been forgotten by the family. They haven’t been forgotten by the gardaí either.”

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.

Gardaí have appealed for anyone who was in the area and who may have information, particularly those at the 21st or in the town, to come forward.

Anybody with information can contact gardaí at Leixlip at (01) 666 7000, the garda confidential line at 1800 666 111 or any other station.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times