‘Everyone is just numbed by the scale of the tragedy’ – locals left reeling after drowning of brother and sister off Kerry beach

A community is in shock after a man and his sister drowned while swimming at a popular tourist spot.

ather-of-two Dessie Byrne (52) died trying to rescue 62-year-old Muriel Eriksson when she got in to difficulty off Ballybunion beach in Co Kerry.

Mr Byrne’s teenage son, who was on the beach at the time, is believed to have witnessed the tragedy, on Thursday afternoon.

Originally from Athlone, Mr Byrne and his wife, Paulette, had been living in the village of Lecarrow in Co Roscommon for more than 20 years.

He was a carpenter and had his own carpet-laying business.

When you talk about Dessie Byrne, you think of a fun-loving character who always had a smile on his face

His sister had been living in Malmo, southern Sweden, in recent years, but maintained very close links with Ireland.

It is understood she was employed by the local authority in Malmo as an administrative assistant with the health department.

A spokesperson yesterday declined to comment, saying they had not been officially contacted about her death.

In Baylough, outside Athlone, cousins of the brother and sister declined to speak about the tragedy, saying they were “very shocked” by their deaths and that it was “very raw”.

The chairman of Westmeath County Council, Aengus O’Rourke, was a childhood friend of the Byrne family and 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.

“I just cannot believe he is gone. He was such a multi-talented man.

“Everyone is numbed by the scale of this tragedy.”

Mr O’Rourke said the Byrne family were “hugely respected” in the locality.

As the people of Lecarrow village struggled to come to terms with the tragedy, Noel Galvin, chairman of the local Lecarrow Lazers Cycling Club, said he had grown up with Mr Byrne in Baylough, and both had moved to the Lecarrow area.

He described him as a “very funny man, a great character, a family man”.

“He was very prominent in our cycling club and took part in many charity cycles – we cycled to Wales and all around Ireland. He was a well-liked guy,” he said.

Local people are shocked and saddened, Mr O’Rourke said.


Desmond Byrne and Muriel Eriksson

“He was just such a prominent member in the community – he would always help with anything for charity, he was always around so everybody is stunned,” he added.

“Even people who don’t know him are stunned because Lecarrow is close-knit and when anything happens like this we rally round, and over the next few days we will rally.”

It is understood Mr Byrne, his sister and his son arrived in Ballybunion only days before the tragedy.

Ms Eriksson was home from Sweden for a holiday.

It is believed the siblings went for an afternoon swim off the beach shortly after 4pm on Thursday when they got into difficulty. 

Mr Byrne’s distressed son, who was on the beach at the time, was found by emergency services and treated for shock before being reunited later with relatives.

Everyone is numbed by the scale of this tragedy

Kerry rescue officials described the tragedy as the worst swimming-related accident in the area in more than three decades.

Ballybunion 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 that can prove dangerous to the unwary.

It is believed Ms Eriksson first got into difficulty while swimming offshore.

Her brother, who was also swimming, 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 person passing by spotted what they thought was a man struggling in the sea.

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

Local people in Ballybunion were left distraught by the tragedy

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

Amid local concerns that another two people remained in the water, a massive rescue operation was triggered.

It involved Irish Coast Guard units including the Shannon-based Rescue 115 helicopter, a Kilrush-based RNLI lifeboat, the Ballybunion inshore rescue boat and Ballybunion Sea and Cliff Rescue.

The north Cork-based Irish Community Air Ambulance, with gardaí and HSE officials providing shore-based support, were also involved in the operation.

A short time later, the body of Ms Eriksson sister was recovered from the water.

She was unresponsive and, despite efforts to revive her, she was also pronounced dead at the scene.

Both bodies were later transferred to University Hospital Kerry (UHK), where post-mortem examinations were carried out yesterday.

Garda sources said the deaths were being treated as tragic accidents, with both siblings believed to have drowned.

A file will now be prepared for a Kerry coroner’s inquest next year.

Local people in Ballybunion were left distraught by the tragedy.  

Councillor Robert Beasley said everyone in the town was shocked by the double loss of life.

He had been walking along the cliffs when he saw the emergency operation but thought it was a training exercise.

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