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


Desmond Byrne and Muriel Eriksson

Desmond Byrne and Muriel Eriksson

Desmond Byrne and Muriel Eriksson

A courageous brother who died alongside the sister he was desperately trying to save in the sea off Kerry will have a joint funeral with the sibling he adored.

Desmond 'Dessie' Byrne (52) drowned alongside his Swedish-based sister, Muriel Eriksson (62), while his teenage son was on Ballybunion beach and is feared to have witnessed part of the incident unfold on Thursday afternoon.

The twin deaths - the worst drowning tragedy in Kerry for over 30 years - shocked Ireland and renewed pleas for greater awareness of water safety.

Mr Byrne will repose alongside his beloved sister, Muriel, at his Lecarrow home in Roscommon on Monday afternoon.

Their remains will then be taken to St John's Church in Lecarrow on Tuesday morning for 12 noon Requiem Mass.

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

Friends and family of Muriel Eriksson, who had been based in Sweden for years, are flying into Ireland from Malmo to offer their support to her heartbroken family.

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

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

Gardaí are treating the twin tragedy on Thursday evening as a freak accident - but have appealed for anyone who may have witnessed the incident to contact them as they prepare a file for a coroner's inquest expected to be stage next year.

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Mr Byrne, who was originally from Athlone, had been based in Lecarrow in Roscommon for many years.

He had worked as a carpenter and carpet-layer but was deeply involved in sports clubs in Westmeath and Roscommon.

His older sister had been living in Malmo over recent years but maintained very close links 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 brief holiday in Ballybunion with Mr Byrne's youngest son, Josh, when the tragedy occurred.

Chairman of Westmeath Co Council, Councillor Aengus O'Rourke, a childhood friend of the Byrnes, said the entire community was numbed 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 activity-based holidays. I know he was involved in a cycling club here. He also went swimming. Thirty years ago, when no-one was going skiing, Dessie Byrne was going skiing.

"I just cannot believe he is gone. He was such a multi-talented man. Everyone is numbed by the scale of this tragedy. Like everyone in the community in Athlone I would like to express my deepest sympathies to the Byrne family who are hugely respected here."

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

"It is with great shock and sadness that we learned of the tragic passing of our dead friend and clubmate, Dessie Byrne, and his sister, Muriel, in a drowning accident yesterday evening," a Laser CC spokesperson posted.

"On behalf of the club we extend our sympathies to Dessie's family, relatives and friends. All the club activities are cancelled for this weekend as a mark of respect."

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

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

Kerry rescue officials described the tragedy as the worst swimming-related accident in the area for over 30 years.

The two siblings died after getting into difficulty with notoriously strong currents offshore from Ballybunion beach.

The strand is ranked as one of the most picturesque in Ireland but is known for a strong tide and powerful currents which sweep past the north Kerry coast - currents which can prove dangerous to the unwary.

It is believed Mr Byrne and Ms Eriksson went for an afternoon swim off Ballybunion shortly after 4pm on Thursday. Mr Byrne's son was playing on the beach at the time.

It is feared that Ms Eriksson got into difficulty while swimming - possibly after getting caught in a treacherous current.

Her brother is believed to have realised she was in difficulty and went to her assistance. However, he quickly fell victim to the same currents and also got into difficulty.

The alarm was raised at 6pm when a teenager on shore spotted what they thought was a man in difficulty in the water.

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

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

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

This involved units of the Irish Coast Guard including the Shannon-based Rescue 115 helicopter, a Kilrush-based RNLI lifeboat, the Ballybunion inshore rescue boat and Ballybunion Sea and Cliff Rescue as well as the north Cork-based Irish Community Air Ambulance.

Gardaí and HSE officials provided shore-based support.

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

Rescue officials 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 hospital transfer.

However, once it was confirmed there was not a third casualty in the water and Mr Byrne's son was located unharmed on the beach, the operation was stood-down.

Both bodies were later transferred to University Hospital Kerry where full post mortem examinations were conducted.

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 were reeling from the worst tragedy to hit the popular north Kerry resort for over 30 years.

Councillor Robert Beasley said everyone in Ballybunion was shocked by the tragedy and the loss of life involved.

"It is a heartbreaking thing to happen and our thoughts and prayers go to that poor family," he said.

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

"Someone then told me that there had been a tragic accident. From what I have heard, it appears one of them got into difficulty and the other went in to save them. Only they got into difficulty too."

Over the past 20 years, two people have drowned in the Ballybunion area - one of which involved an accidental fall.

Forty years ago - when Ballybunion's popularity exploded and the huge influx of visitors resulted in a number of tragedies - locals united to form a special volunteer rescue service aimed at supporting and supplementing local lifeguards employed by Kerry County Council.

It proved an enormous success and, between 1976 and 1986, Ballybunion didn't suffer a single drowning tragedy.

The area now even boasts its own inshore rescue craft.

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 fast rising tides and strong currents while exploring a local cave network near Ladies Beach.

Over the past 10 years, five children were rescued from near tragedy off Ballybunion's beach in three separate incidents as the combination of strong tides and treacherous currents almost resulted in disaster.

Twice children had to be rescued in the open sea off Ballybunion after being swept out while playing with inflatable boats and toys.

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

In 2013, a 10-year-old and an eight-year-old had to be rescued in the open sea after being dragged out by the current while using a ring-buoy.

Three years ago a young boy was rescued after getting into difficulty while swimming.

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