By Michelle Devane, PA
The Taoiseach has offered his condolences to the families and friends of siblings who died in a “heart-breaking tragedy” in Ballybunion, Co Kerry.
Micheál Martin said: “We’re all deeply shocked and saddened at this very tragic and heart-breaking loss of life on what was a beautiful day.
“I want to extend my sincere sympathies to the family and friends of those who lost their lives, particularly to those family members who were present and who witnessed this heartbreaking tragedy.”
The brother and sister, who died in a suspected drowning incident, have been named locally as Desmond Byrne, 50, and Muriel Eriksson, 62.
The siblings, who got into difficulty in the water off Ballybunion Beach on Thursday evening, were pronounced dead at the scene.
Mr Byrne, who was originally from Athlone, was living in Lecarrow, Co Roscommon, while Ms Eriksson had an address in Malmo, Sweden.
It is understood the alarm was raised by a teenage relative.
I was on #Ballybunion beach this evening and witnessed the efforts of the different rescue services @BallybRescue as they attempted to save two people who got into difficulties in the sea. Tragically they died and deepest sympathies to their family.
— Brenda Donohue (@BrendaDonohue) August 4, 2022
Mr Martin also paid tribute to the first responders and emergency services crews who he said “did everything they could as quickly as they could to respond to the emergency that unfolded”.
“It reminds us all of how treacherous the seas and oceans can be. But at this point in time our deepest sympathies and hearts are with the people who have been bereaved as a result of this very, very sad tragedy,” he added.
Emergency services were called to the beach shortly after 5pm on Thursday after they were alerted that a person had got into difficulty in the water.
Their bodies were removed from the scene by ambulance and taken to the mortuary in University Hospital Kerry in Tralee.
Postmortem examinations are due to get under way.
Mr Byrne was a member of Lecarrow Lazers Cycling Club in Roscommon.
Club chairman Noel Galvin told RTÉ’s News At One: “The whole community is shocked and saddened.
“He was a very prominent member of our community, and he was a very popular member of our local cycling club.
“We’re only a small community half way between Athlone and Roscommon. We’re just shocked. It’s terrible news that filtered in last night.”
Mr Galvin said Mr Byrne was “enormously liked”.
“We did a lot of charity cycles over the years, and he would have been a prominent member in those cycles. If he couldn’t do the cycle on the day, he was helping out in some other way. He was enormously liked in the club.”
He said he had his own carpet fitting business, and he was known throughout the Midlands.
“Lecarrow is well-known for rallying together during times of tragedies like this. We’ll rally around the family over the next few days and we’ll do what we can. People are just finding it hard to comprehend what happened.”
The Irish Coast Guard, Ballybunion Community Rescue Boat Ireland and Kilrush RNLI were involved in the operation.
In a statement, the Irish Coast Guard said Valentia Coast Guard received a report shortly after 5pm that a person was in difficulty in Ballybunion.
“A full-scale search and rescue operation was mounted with Shannon-based Coast Guard Helicopter R115, Ballybunion Community Rescue Boat Ireland and Kilrush RNLI all being tasked to scene,” the statement read.
“Shortly afterwards, a second person was recovered from the water by Ballybunion Community Rescue Boat Ireland.
“The man and woman were pronounced dead on scene. The search was stood down following confirmation that no other persons were missing.
“The Coast Guard express sympathy to the family of the two casualties.”
Fine Gael TD Patrick O’Donovan described the deaths as a “desperate tragedy” and expressed his “sincerest sympathies to the families” and to the people who witnessed the incident.
“From our perspective, here in Co Limerick, Ballybunion is an extension of our own place,” the Limerick TD told RTÉ’s Today With Claire Byrne Show.
“We know this place intimately. Some of my own extended family were in Ballybunion and saw the commotion that unfolded.
“It’s a desperate tragedy. And there’s really nothing that you can put into words to describe the pall of gloom that’s around north Kerry and west Limerick area at the moment.”
Terrible news this evening of tragedy in #Ballybunion a place we know so well, a town that welcomes so many people from all over the country and beyond every day during the summer. The thoughts of people locally here are with the family of those that were lost.
— Patrick O'Donovan (@podonovan) August 4, 2022
Local Sinn Féin councillor Robert Beasley said the community has been left in shock after the “horrible tragedy”.
The councillor, who lives near Ballybunion beach, told the PA news agency: “There was a lot of people on the beach at the time, maybe 600 or 700 people.
“I met a lot of people on the clifftop and, when they realised what was happening, men, women and children were leaving in their droves and they were in a terrible, distressed state.
“An hour-and-a-half before, when I passed, people were happy, building sandcastles and generally having fun on the beach.
“Two deaths in the space of a couple of minutes on the water. It’s terrible – a terrible tragedy. People are shocked beyond belief.”
Mr Beasley offered his deepest condolences to the family affected.
Local Fine Gael councillor Michael Foley told PA: “Everybody is shocked by what happened. It’s very tragic.
“We only live in Ballylongford, which is about 12 miles away, and the whole village is shocked here about the sad news.
“Everyone has said how tragic is it and how they feel for the family.”