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Monday 18 December 2017

'Jonny was terrified of water, I don't know why he jumped in'

The body of Jonny Byrne is taken away by a hearse after it was taken from the River Barrow, near Milford Bridge, Co. Carlow. Pic: Zara King
The body of Jonny Byrne is taken away by a hearse after it was taken from the River Barrow, near Milford Bridge, Co. Carlow. Pic: Zara King
The body of student Jonny Byrne is taken away by a hearse after it was taken from the River Barrow, near Milford Bridge, Co Carlow, as family and friends look on.
Jonny Byrne's brother Patrick and father Joe. Picture: Courtesy RTE
Jonny Byrne

THE young student who lost his life after jumping into a river during a Neknomination drinking challenge was "terrified" of water and unable to swim.

Patrick Byrne (26) – who tried to save his brother Jonny (19) from the flood-swollen River Barrow – said he could not understand why the young hurler leapt into the water.

Patrick believes the internet craze sweeping the country is the "biggest form of bullying" seen so far. He blames much of the craze on "peer pressure".

"A friend of Jonny's, he stood up against it last week and said he was not going to do it. He was bullied, slated and called a coward for the week," Patrick said.

He urged people to be aware of the dangers of the growing trend and to boycott the craze.

"We had no idea what Jonny was going to do, we thought he was going to drink. We knew he was nominated and would drink the drink," said Patrick.

Along with his girlfriend, he saw his younger brother leap into the water on Saturday evening at Milford Bridge in Carlow – less than a kilometre from their home.

"We can't understand it. He couldn't swim, he was terrified of water, even back in primary school. He had gone on holidays with mam and dad and the only time he would get in the pool was at the very shallow end.

"He hated baths and always went for showers. It doesn't make sense," he told the Irish Independent.

The family has launched a campaign to stop Neknominations, which involves people posting an online video of themselves downing a strong drink, sometimes combined with a stunt.

Patrick's Facebook message urging others to stop the trend has received tens of thousands of hits and has drawn responses from as far away as New Zealand, Australia and the US.

Patrick told how he was pleased with the level of response his 'Stop Neknominations Now' campaign had garnered.

"Strangers have contacted me. All I did was I told every one of my friends and it has gone all around Ireland, the UK and global," he said, adding there will be some consolation if "it is able to stop one person."

His father, Joe Byrne, said: "I hope it never comes to anyone else's door. I don't wish it on anybody. I know my son is gone, but if it saves lives it will be worth it. If they can put a stop to it it will be worth it."

He explained how the dare or 'nomination' appeared to have gotten out of control very swiftly last Saturday night.

"He (Jonny, pictured) was doing this dare with a drink and he had the drink and he was with my son Patrick," Mr Byrne explained. "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 doesn't drink and he didn't realise the extent of what was going to happen."

Patrick jumped in after him, valiantly trying to pull him towards the bank, but amid the panic his brother pulled him under and he could not drag him to safety.

A man who came upon the scene pulled Patrick out of the water.

"We were lucky to get Patrick out, they had to pull him out, but Jonathan slipped away and there was nothing they could do for him," his father said.


Early on Sunday morning, the garda sub aqua unit and the Civil Defence retrieved the body of the young hurler from a sluice gate just metres away from where he had entered.

Mr Byrne, who along with his eldest son Patrick does not drink alcohol, believes a mix of strong spirits was involved in the incident.

He told how his younger son removed a bottle of Jameson whiskey from the house "unbeknownst to us".

"He had a bottle of I think it was Malibu, and I think something else.

"Whether he poured them all together or what I don't know, he drank this anyway," he said, adding he did not know if he had "lost control" after that.

The Byrne family brought home their youngest son to be waked at their house in Tomard, Leighlinbridge, which they said will open to friends and neighbours today.

Louise Hogan

Irish Independent

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