Drink culture under attack as alcohol kills two young men
Lethal internet craze linked to both deaths
THE country's drink culture is under renewed attack today after two young men lost their lives in alcohol-related incidents.
The two sudden and tragic deaths over the weekend have united government ministers, pressure groups, parents and young people in their calls to tackle our worsening attitude towards alcohol.
And there were warnings that social media is putting additional pressure on young people to take part in dangerous alcohol-related stunts.
Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald said that young people now have a more flippant attitude to alcohol – and they are putting their lives at risk as a result.
Her comments came as the family of a teenager who died taking part in a new internet drinking craze appealed to other young people not to become involved.
Patrick Byrne made a desperate attempt to rescue his younger brother Jonny (19) who had been taking part in the new craze 'Neknomination', which involves downing alcohol after receiving an online challenge.
Talented hurler Jonny, from Tomard in Leighlinbridge, Co Carlow, finished his drink, then stunned onlookers when he leapt into the River Barrow near Milford Bridge, Co Carlow.
Patrick, who had not been drinking, dived in after him but nearly lost his own life in the struggle and had to be hauled out by rope.
Speaking to the Irish Independent about the 'Neknomination' phenomenon, the family of the young hurler warned it must stop now.
Gardai are awaiting the results of a post-mortem to establish the cause of death.
Ms Fitzgerald condemned the craze – which is currently sweeping social media – as "dangerous and harmful", saying the trend "shows a broader need to address the drinking culture in Ireland".
Paul Gilligan of St Patrick's Mental Health Service said young people needed to be educated on the short- and long-term effects of alcohol and the risks of binge drinking which has become "commonplace" in this country.
The double tragedies sparked an outpouring of grief, as well as huge concern about the dangerous trend that has gone viral.
Jonny's family sent out a stark warning to others to stop playing the game. Just hours after his brother disappeared into the water, Patrick took to Facebook to issue a heartfelt plea.
"My young 19-year-old brother, Jonny Byrne from Carlow, died tonight in the middle of his nomination," Patrick wrote.
"He thought he had to try and beat the competition and after he necked his pint he jumped into the river.
"If people have any decency and respect they will refrain from any more of this."
Last night his message had been shared more than 16,000 times, with hundreds choosing to comment in support.
"It is after getting a lot of response and a lot of people are taking it (Neknomination videos) down," Patrick said.
Their father added: "I hope this message is heeded – because for us, life is virtually over."
Mr Byrne said: "It happened so suddenly, (Jonny) was doing this dare with a drink.
"Patrick turned away from him for an instant, and within that instant he had his tracksuit off and went flying by him, and the next thing he landed in the river. Patrick went in after him. He turned and he shoved Patrick under, with panic and everything else. Patrick said he couldn't hold him, he had to let him go."
Mr Byrne said he believed a "cocktail" of drink was consumed. He said the family have no idea who initiated the dare. "I'm appealing to everyone who is associated with this to please stop. It cost my son his life because of a dare and I don't want to see anybody else in the same situation, because it has destroyed our family."
Mr Byrne also called for state intervention on the social media phenomenon that claimed his son's life.
"I would like the minister to do something . . . some sort of legislation," he said.
Earlier, amid heartbreaking scenes on the banks of the fast-moving river, Jonny's older brother Patrick also begged others not to participate in Neknomination.
"I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy," he told the Irish Independent.
Jonny was a first-year business studies student in Carlow IT, a member of Naomh Brid Hurling and Leighlinbridge Gaelic Football Club, and had played underage hurling for Carlow.
Gardai are continuing to investigate the circumstances of the incident. The young man will be buried after 2pm Mass on Wednesday in Leighlinbridge. Fr Tom Lalor, parish priest in Leighlinbridge, said: "He was a lovely young fellow, a fine young fellow and in the prime of his life, this is so tragic."
The new game, believed to have begun in Australia or the UK, has been likened to a modern day online chain letter.
Dr Ide Delargy, director of the substance misuse programme at the Irish College of General Practitioners, warned that it was a "type of Russian roulette activity" as a person "does not know how they will react in certain circumstances".
Dr Delargy said: "Binge drinking in itself is very risky, it is the quantities and the speed at which people are consuming. It can be spirits, so it is higher-percentage alcohol getting into the body at high speed. There are risks of alcohol poisoning. It appears that the internet component is adding a new dimension to this behaviour," he warned.