Joint funeral for brother and sister who died in the Ballybunion swimming tragedy


A brave brother who died with the sister he was desperately trying to save in the sea off Kerry is buried with the sibling he adored.

Esmond ‘Dessie’ Byrne, 52, drowned alongside his sister Muriel Eriksson, 62, who lives in Sweden, while his teenage son was on Ballybunion beach and is feared to have witnessed part of the incident on Thursday afternoon.

The deaths of the twins – the worst drowning tragedy in Kerry in over 30 years – shocked Ireland and renewed calls for greater awareness of water safety.

Mr Byrne will rest next to his beloved sister Muriel at his home in Lecarrow in Roscommon on Monday afternoon.

Her remains will then be taken to St John’s Church, Lecarrow for the Requiem Mass at 12 noon on Tuesday morning.

Mr Byrne will be buried in the local cemetery, while Ms Eriksson’s remains will be cremated on Wednesday.

Friends and family of Muriel Eriksson, who has lived in Sweden for years, are flying from Malmo to Ireland to support her heartbroken family.

Mr. Byrne is survived by his heartbroken partner Paulette, his sons Dean and Josh, Paulette’s daughter Regina, and their sons Blake and Jace.

He is also survived by brothers Kenny, Donal, Justin and Colm, brother-in-law Kris who lives in Sweden, sisters-in-law Maggie and Nong, and aunts, uncles and cousins.

Gardaí are treating the twin tragedy as an unusual accident on Thursday night – but have asked anyone who may have witnessed the incident to contact them as they prepare a file for a coroner’s inquest, which is expected to take place next year .

Mr Byrne, originally from Athlone, was based at Lecarrow in Roscommon for many years.

He had worked as a carpenter and carpet fitter but was heavily involved in sports clubs in Westmeath and Roscommon.

His older sister has been living in Malmo for the last few years but has maintained very close ties to Ireland.

She was very close to her younger brother and the two regularly enjoyed short breaks when she was back in Ireland.

The siblings were on a short holiday in Ballybunion with Mr Byrne’s youngest son Josh when the tragedy struck.

Westmeath Co Council leader Councilor Aengus O’Rourke, a childhood friend of the Byrnes, said the entire community was stunned by the tragedy.

“When you talk about Dessie Byrne, you think of a fun-loving character who always had a smile on his face,” he said.

“Dessie loved active holidays. I know that he was involved in a cycling club here. He also went swimming. Thirty years ago, before anyone skied, Dessie Byrne skied.

“I just can’t believe he’s gone. He was such a multi-talented man. Everyone is stunned by the scale of this tragedy. Like everyone in the Athlone community, I would like to extend my deepest condolences to the Byrne family who are immensely respected here.”

The Lecarrow Lazers Cycling Club paid a moving tribute to one of its most dedicated members.

“It is with great shock and sadness that we learned last night of the tragic death of our friend and clubmate Dessie Byrne and his sister Muriel in a drowning accident,” a Laser CC spokesperson wrote.

“On behalf of the club, we send our condolences to Dessie’s family, relatives and friends. Out of respect, all club activities are canceled for this weekend.”

It is understood the family group had only arrived in Ballybunion days before the tragedy.

Mr Byrne’s distressed teenage son was found by emergency services on the beach on Thursday night and treated for shock before being later reunited with relatives.

Kerry rescue workers described the tragedy as the worst swimming accident in the area in over 30 years.

The two siblings died after getting into trouble with notoriously strong currents off the coast of Ballybunion.

The beach is considered one of the most picturesque in Ireland, but is notorious for strong tides and strong currents that sweep past the north coast of Kerry – currents that can prove dangerous for the unwary.

It is believed that Mr Byrne and Ms Eriksson went for a swim outside Ballybunion on Thursday just after 4pm. Mr Byrne’s son was playing on the beach at the time.

It is feared Ms Eriksson got into trouble while swimming – possibly after getting caught in a treacherous current.

It is believed that her brother noticed that she was in trouble and rushed to her aid. However, he quickly fell victim to the same currents and also got into trouble.

The alarm went off at 6pm when a teenager on the shore spotted a troubled man in the water.

Mr Byrne’s body later washed up closer to shore and when emergency services reached the area they retrieved him from the water unresponsive.

Despite desperate efforts to revive him, he was pronounced dead at the scene.

There were concerns that two other people were in the water and a massive rescue operation was unleashed.

This involved Irish Coastguard units including the Shannon-based rescue helicopter Rescue 115, a Kilrush-based RNLI lifeboat, the Ballybunion coastal lifeboat and Ballybunion Sea and Cliff Rescue and the North Cork-based Irish Community Air Ambulance.

Gardaí and HSE officers provided shore assistance.

A short time later, Ms. Eriksson’s body was recovered from the water. She was unresponsive and was pronounced dead at the scene despite desperate efforts to revive her.

Rescue workers initially feared that a third person was in the water, so the search operation continued for another hour.

Both helicopters remained on standby off Ballybunion in case of an emergency transfer to hospital.

However, when it was confirmed that there was no third casualty in the water and Mr Byrne’s son was found unharmed on the beach, the operation was halted.

Both bodies were later transferred to Kerry University Hospital for full post-mortem examinations.

Garda sources said the deaths of both the brother and sister are being treated as tragic accidents, with both believed to have drowned.

Ballybunion locals reeled from the worst tragedy to hit the popular holiday resort of North Kerry in over 30 years.

Councilor Robert Beasley said everyone in Ballybunion was shocked by the tragedy and the loss of life it caused.

“It is heartbreaking and our thoughts and prayers go out to this poor family,” he said.

He was walking the cliffs outside Ballybunion on Thursday afternoon and spotted what he believed was a training exercise by rescue services with several helicopters hovering offshore.

“Someone then told me that there had been a tragic accident. From what I’ve heard it seems that one of them got into trouble and the other went in to rescue them. Only they got into trouble too.”

Two people have drowned in the Ballybunion area in the last 20 years – one from an accidental fall.

Forty years ago – as Ballybunion’s popularity exploded and the huge influx of visitors led to a series of tragedies – local people banded together to set up a special volunteer lifeguard service aimed at assisting the local lifeguards employed by Kerry County Council and to complete.

It proved an enormous success and between 1976 and 1986 Ballybunion did not suffer a single drowning tragedy.

The area now even has its own coastal lifeboat.

However, in August 1992, Ballybunion suffered one of its worst tragedies when a 50-year-old father and his 10-year-old son drowned when they were trapped by rapidly rising tides and strong currents while exploring a local network of caves near Ladies Beach.

In the last 10 years, five children have been rescued from a near tragedy off Ballybunion beach in three separate incidents when the combination of strong tides and treacherous currents nearly resulted in disaster.

Twice children had to be rescued at sea off Ballybunion after being swept away while playing with inflatable boats and toys.

In 2010, two children were rescued when they were swept away.

In 2013, a ten-year-old and an eight-year-old had to be rescued at sea after being swept away by the current with a ring buoy.

Three years ago, a boy was rescued after getting into trouble while swimming. Joint funeral for brother and sister who died in the Ballybunion swimming tragedy

Fry Electronics Team

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