Gardaí in Co Kerry have renewed their appeal for any witnesses to Thursday evening’s double drowning at Ballybunion to come forward as the identity of the second victim became known.
Muriel Eriksson, a 62-year-old Irishwoman who was home on holidays from Sweden where she was living, was discovered in the water having drowned along with her brother Dessie Byrne (50).
Mr Byrne, who was originally from Athlone, was living in Lecarrow, Co Roscommon, while Ms Eriksson had an address in Malmo, Sweden.
Mr Byrne’s teenage son, the only other family member on the beach at the time with his father and aunt, had raised the alarm and was said to be deeply traumatized by the event.
Ballybunion was the scene of a previous double fatality in mid-August 1992 when a father and his son from Co Clare were drowned after being trapped by the tide while exploring local caves. Tony McCarthy (50) and his son Aidan (10), of Tulla, Co Clare, were on the last day of their holiday.
A carpet fitter by trade, Mr Byrne had lived in Lecarrow with his partner Paulette and their two sons Josh and Dean.
Originally from Baylough, Athlone, he was involved in many local community groups including the cycling club Lecarrow Lazers.
Describing the deaths as a “terrible tragedy” which had caused deep sorrow in the locality local Independent councilor Laurence Fallon said Mr Byrne was very popular and was the type of neighbor who was always willing to help anyone in need.
“He was quiet and unassuming, never one to seek the limelight,” said Cllr Fallon. “He was a great family man, devoted to his partner and his two sons, and he was always there if anyone needed help.
“A few years ago when neighbors worked round the clock to try to keep flood waters from Lough Funshinagh out of a house in the locality, he was part of that 24 hour rota. That was typical of the man”.
Dessie’s sister Muriel was found by a local rescue boat minutes after her brother was taken from the water.
Their bodies were taken by ambulance to the mortuary in University Hospital Kerry and a post mortem examination was due to take place on Friday.
Speaking during a visit to Tarbert, Co Kerry, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he was “deeply shocked and saddened at this very tragic and heartbreaking loss of lives on what was a beautiful day”.
He said he wanted to extend his sincere sympathies to the family and friends of the bereaved and “particularly to those family members who were present who witnessed this tragedy”.
Noel Galvin, chairman of the Lecarrow Lazers cycling club said Mr Byrne frequently participated in charity cycles and was always available to help the club.
“He will be missed. He was very active in the parish and was always helping out in one way or the other,” Mr Galvin told RTÉ Radio’s News at One.
“It was terrible news to get. Lecarrow is known for rallying together and we will rally around the family.”
People were finding it difficult to understand what had happened, Mr Galvin added. “The news was horrifying to hear.”
Mr Galvin extended his condolences to the Byrne family and Mr Byrne’s wide circle of friends. “We will be there for them.”
Earlier on Thursday Kerry councilor Robert Beasley said people in Ballybunion were “shocked beyond belief” following the double drowning of the siblings.
The alarm was raised some time before 7pm when the Irish Coast Guard Marine Rescue Co-ordination Center in Valentia received a call and a large search and rescue operation was put into place
The Irish Coast Guard Sikorsky helicopter Rescue 115 was tasked from Shannon while both the Ballybunion community inshore rescue boat and Kilrush RNLI lifeboat were also launched.
The body of one of the swimmers was brought ashore while the operation was being launched and the person was pronounced dead by a local GP as the search operation for the second person began.
The second casualty was recovered from the water by the Ballybunion community inshore rescue boat and brought ashore where they too were pronounced dead by the local GP.
Insp Tim O’Keeffe of Listowel Gardaí said the weather was good at the time of the tragedy. There had been a number of people on the beach and gardaí appealed to anyone there as the tragedy unfolded to come forward.
Gardaí were making the appeal especially so the family of the deceased would know exactly what happened, Inspector O’Keeffe said.
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