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Rescue bid that ended in tragedy

A WOMAN who desperately tried to rescue a swimmer was within feet of him when he went under the water and drowned.

Kevin Byrne (22) of Ballymacar, New Ross, Co Wexford, died after getting into trouble while swimming in the River Barrow with friends on a hot evening last June, an inquest heard yesterday.

The tragedy happened in Graiguenamanagh, Co Kilkenny, at a popular swimming spot which has diving boards and a boathouse.

Mr Byrne was a past pupil of Good Counsel College in New Ross and Waterford Institute of Technology and was planning to qualify as a quantity surveyor.

He is survived by his parents William and Anna, sister Sinead and brother Brian.

The Coroner's Court in Kilkenny was told yesterday that Mr Byrne had started to swim from one bank of the river to the other at about 6.15pm that evening but got into difficulty and tried to turn back.

His friend, Toby Kavanagh broke down in tears, as his statement was read out to the court, in which he said a group of friends met at the riverside in Graiguenamanagh.

Kevin Byrne initially said: "I don't think I'll get in, I don't think I'll bother," to Mr Kavanagh.

Some of the group then jumped into the water and swam to the far bank.

One of the friends said, "Is Kevin in trouble?" and, when he looked around, Mr Kavanagh saw Kevin in the water, struggling.

Another friend, Kieran Joyce, said he saw Kevin "waving and splashing" in the water. Kevin shouted "hey lads, help" to the group and somebody threw in a lifebelt but he was unable to reach it.

Joan Ryan was one of two women to jump into the water and go to Kevin's aid.

"When I was about two feet from him, I reached towards him and as I did so, this person went down under the water," she said in her statement to the court.

Visibility was very poor in the water and Ms Ryan said she and others spent about 45 minutes in the water looking for Mr Byrne.

He was eventually found at about 6.50pm by Kieran Phelan, with the help of other searchers.

Ambulance and fire service personnel tried to revive him using CPR and a defibrillator but Mr Byrne was pronounced dead at the scene at 7.40pm and brought to the mortuary at Waterford Regional Hospital.

Mr Byrne's body was formally identified by his sister, Sinead Byrne.

The inquest was adjourned by coroner Timothy Kiely until April 21 when evidence will be heard from pathologist Dr Maurice Murphy.