Just an ordinary family in an ordinary bungalow
THE trampoline and pink children's play shed stood in the garden.
The beauty of the Butler family home's location, with its panoramic views out over Ballycotton Bay in east Cork, was in stark contrast to the horror unfolding within the bungalow.
In the front room of the white-painted house, the bodies of two children -- Zoe (7) and Ella (2) -- lay side by side.
Zoe was dressed and ready for another day at Scoil Realt na Mhara (Ballycotton National School).
But it was a journey the little girl -- the youngest in her class -- never got to make.
In a rear window, a child's doll lay limply waiting in vain for its young owner to reclaim it. In the garden, toys lay where they had last been played with.
Outside, uniformed gardai huddled for warmth as a biting November wind whirled over the bay and up the hillside.
The garda tape that is used to seal off crime scenes whipped and snapped in the strong gusts.
What had started out as a bright, chilly day in Ballycotton quickly darkened as storm clouds gathered over the bay and heavy rain swept in from the sea.
Motorists passing by slowed down and stared at the bungalow as if in disbelief that such tragedy could unfold just six weeks before Christmas.
Two Polish men -- workers at a nearby equestrian centre -- said the Butlers seemed like any other family, devoted to their children and very friendly with their neighbours.
Less than one kilometre away, the scarred and gutted hulk of the family's Toyota Yaris car lay wedged in a ditch off the Shanagarry-Ballycotton road.
Father-of-two John Butler died when the car left the road and erupted in a fireball that some neighbours mistook for a small explosion.
A construction worker and former east Cork GAA player, John Butler hailed from Cobh, while his wife, Una, comes from one of the oldest and most respected families in Ballycotton.
Described last night as a wonderful neighbour and a devoted mother, she is also a staunch supporter of local charities, including Marymount Hospice.
Two kilometres down the road, the fishing village was slowly coming to terms with yet another tragedy on its doorstep.
Ballycotton is no stranger to heartache after fishing tragedies, drownings and the high-profile failure of the village's hoped-for-Hollywood epic, 'Divine Rapture'.
But yesterday's tragedy was pain on an entirely different scale.
Outside Ballycotton's national school, parents were shocked by the news of the deaths. Several wept as they collected their own children.
Ann McNamara, a friend of the family, broke down as she said no one could believe the awful news about the three deaths.
"I just cannot believe it. We all met up at a birthday party only the other week. It is terrible, so terribly sad," she said, adding: "They're such a lovely family -- such beautiful children."
In the nearby Garryvoe Hotel, staff were devastated at the tragedy that had befallen the young mother who had worked at the hotel several years ago.
Ballycotton national school principal Derry Kehoe said the tragic deaths had left the entire community numb.
"The family are very well known, a very well established family here in Ballycotton -- they are very well respected," he said.
"Zoe was a happy, bubbly child -- a really lovely child. She was the youngest in her class and everyone here is very, very upset."
Such was the impact of the tragedy in the area that even the Apostolic Administrator of Cloyne Diocese, Archbishop Dermot Clifford, issued a statement to say that his prayers and those of his fellow clerics were now with everyone in Ballycotton.
He said: "I am deeply shocked to learn of the tragic deaths of two children and their father in Ballycotton today.
"My heart goes out to all concerned: the children's mother, the extended family, relatives and friends, the community of Ballycotton and the people of the whole parish of Cloyne."
Dr Clifford added that Ballycotton would be in everyone's prayers at this difficult time.