Deaths of brother and sister who drowned in Kerry ruled a misadventure

Desmond Byrne and Murial Ericsson died by "accidental drowsing", the inquest found
Deaths of brother and sister who drowned in Kerry ruled a misadventure

Anne Lucey

A verdict of death due to misadventure has been recorded at the inquests into the deaths of a brother and sister who drowned when swimming together in Ballybunion, Co Kerry last August.

The cause of the deaths of both people at the Men’s Beach, Ballybunion on August 4th, 2022, of 51-year-old Desmond Byrne, of Carrigeen More, Le Carrow, Roscommon and his 62-year-old sister, Murial Ericsson, of Malmo, Sweden was "accidental drowning".

The inquest in Listowel Co Kerry on Friday morning heard from 17 witnesses including holidaymakers and lifeguards who were on the beach shortly before 6 pm on the Thursday afternoon, as well as from the partner of the late Mr Byrne.

Lifeguards had been on the alert all summer for rip currents in Ballybunion and had been trying to keep people from entering the area where the current was.

On the evening of the tragedy four lifeguards were on duty when normally there would be five or six, the inquest heard.

Josh Byrne (13), the son of Desmond Byrne, who the inquest was told has special needs, was also in the water but had managed to get ashore safely.

Coroner Helen Lucey said it was "nothing short of a miracle that Josh is alive today".

The coroner paid a particular tribute to 15-year-old Ruairí Walsh of Cork who was on his surfboard in the water.

He showed "sensitivity beyond his years," the coroner said. Ruairí saw Josh in difficulty and kept him under observation in a very "sensitive way"; He had also shown "impeccable behaviour" in raising the alarm in relation to Desmond Byrne, Ms Lucey said.

Rip current

Ms Lucey brought in two recommendations with her verdict: that a minimum of five or six lifeguards should be on the Men's and Ladies' beaches in Ballybunion during high season and at times when a lot of people were around.

She also said they should give an oral warning if there is something in the nature of a rip current.

Angie O’Keeffe from Killarney had waded into the water in front of the lifeguard hut and she and her brother saw something floating in the water. The man was unresponsive, and she yelled at Ruairi Walsh, according to her deposition read by Insp Tim O’Keeffe.

Ruairí Walsh of Carrigrohane, Cork was on holiday at the time with his parents in their mobile home in Ballybunion. At 6pm he was surfing in the water, and he saw there was a rip current in front of Castle Green.

"I knew this as I do sailing courses," he said.

He saw a young boy chest deep in the rip current and observed him as he got back safely on shore.

He was altered by a scream from near the shore and saw a man face down in the water and started waving with his surfboard over his head to get the Lifeguard’s attention.  He also gave the arm lift sign to bring first aid.

The inquest heard how lifeguards, and both the Walsh family and the O’Keeffe families became concerned there might be a second person missing after establishing the child was the dead man’s son and also seeing three pairs of shoes, and finding a lady’s clothes and watch in a bag.

The lifeboat was launched and Garda Omar Fitzelle who is also a member of the Ballybunion Sea Cliff and Rescue told of finding a female "face down and partially submerge". This was around 100 meters from the water line.

The tide was out at the time of the alert, the inquest heard.

A rip current as explained by water safety instructor Leo Hilliard is something that can occur at any time or tied and for any duration and which was "like a river in the water".

Rip tides pulled people out from shore, the inquest also heard.

Paulette Daly, partner of the late Desmond Byrne said Muriel was home from Sweden and staying with them in Roscommon.

On the morning of Thursday, August 4th, she was getting ready for work and the three of them - Dessie, Muriel and Josh - headed off in their camper van.

They stopped at Bunratty and spoke to her of maybe going to Kerry. There was no more contact until Garda Máiréad Taheny arrived at her door in Roscommon.

"I couldn’t believe it. Our hearts are broken," Ms Daly said in her deposition read for her by Insp O’Keeffe.

She drove to Tralee and identified the bodies.

Garda Taheny was in Listowel to support the family.

Pathologist Professor Nollaig Parfrey carried out the post-mortems and there was no evidence of disease, no ethanol and no drugs.

Coroner Helen Lucey extended her sympathy to Paulette Daly the partner of Mr Byrne and his siblings and all the family. Ms Ericsson’s husband had since passed away in Sweden, the coroner noted.

These were healthy people as detailed in the post-mortem report "and this is a tragic accident," the coroner said.

"There was a cloud over Ballybunion because of this incident," Ms Lucey also said.

The family thanked the gardaí and all involved.

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