THREE members of the same family killed in a house fire had 'no chance' of escaping the flames, local people said last night.
Dessie McDonald, 75, his wife Patsy, 77, and their daughter Patricia, 34, all died when a fire swept through their home in the early hours of yesterday morning.
A taxi driver passing the house in the rural Lisnabrack area, a mile from Manorhamilton in Co Leitrim, raised the alarm.
"The fire took hold very quickly and although fire brigade personnel were on the scene soon after, there was nothing they could do. They had no chance by that stage," said local man and Fine Gael senator Michael Comiskey.
"Dessie would have been well-known around the area and would have been in Manorhamilton with Patsy doing their shopping a couple of days ago."
Mr McDonald had settled back in Co Leitrim 15 years ago with his wife and three daughters after returning from America.
He renovated the two-storey house in Lisnabrack and was "extremely proud" of his garden.
"He was always out doing something. He had the gardens looking like a picture," said Mr Comiskey.
Efforts were being made last night to contact relatives in Ireland and the US. It is believed one daughter lives in Galway and the other in the US.
Gardai put up an extensive cordon around the area as forensic experts examined the scene of the tragedy.
The bodies of the couple and their daughter were removed just before midday and were taken to Sligo General Hospital for a post-mortem. It's thought all three died from smoke inhalation.
It's understood early inquiries have found the fire was caused accidentally.
Parish priest Fr Oliver Kelly, who was called to the scene in the early hours, said local people were "devastated" by the deaths.
"They were just a lovely, lovely family," he said, "the whole parish is just in shock.
"I have spoken to relatives of the lady who died in the fire and they are obviously incredibly upset.
"They would have been Leitrim people who came back and forth from America for many years before settling here 15 years ago."
Nearest neighbour Laura O'Rourke said they were awoken by the sound of fire engines arriving at the scene.
"We hadn't heard anything until then," she said.
"Somebody else had raised the alarm. Flames were just coming out of the house. We are all very, very upset."
Last night, the scene around the house remained sealed off while garda and fire service investigations continued.
One local man said the McDonalds were "lovely people". He added: "Dessie lived for his family and came home here from America to enjoy his retirement.
"To be killed like this in the month of Christmas is just heartbreaking for their other two daughters and for the whole community here."
Local councillor Sean McSharry, who lives nearby, went to the scene after hearing sirens just after 2.20am.
"There was nothing the fire brigade could do. The house was well ablaze," he added.
Fire crews from Manorhamilton, Sligo and Carrick-on-Shannon had gone to the scene.
The remains of the McDonalds were found inside and they were pronounced dead at the scene.
Prayers were said at the Church of the Annunciation in nearby Mullies for the family last night.