Teacher died after drinking local island spirit

The family of a teacher who died after drinking a local spirit on an island off Bali wants the Department of Foreign Affairs to warn people of the risk of methanol poisoning in Indonesia.

Roisín Burke, aged 21, from Oaklawn West in Leixlip, Co Kildare, died on May 31, 2011, while holidaying with her friends on the Gili Islands.

Roisín and her friends had been drinking arak, a locally brewed spirit, at a café in Gili Trawangan two days before she died.

Roisín, who worked as an English teacher in Jakarta, Indonesia, became ill after drinking the spirit and passed out on the second day. She was taken to a local clinic where doctors failed to resuscitate her.

Another woman also fell ill but later recovered.

The Indonesian authorities did not conduct an autopsy. Eight days after her death, an autopsy was performed at Connolly Hospital in Dublin.

Her family are concerned she may have died as a result of methanol poisoning.

However, Dr Brian Farrell, the coroner, returned an open verdict yesterday because he could not say precisely what caused Roisín’s death.

Dr Farrell said he could not say methanol was not a factor in the woman’s death because it was also present in the embalming process.

He told the family that the formaldehyde used by the Indonesian embalmer would have contained methanol.

Dr Farrell said the pathologists thought the death might have been due to sudden adult death syndrome, but he could not prove that either.

“At the end of the day I don’t know precisely why Roisín died and I am going to have to give an open verdict,” he said.

Roisín’s aunt, Jackie Burke, told the coroner that the family wanted action to be taken so Irish tourists were aware of the danger of drinking contaminated alcohol in Indonesia.

“We wonder if it is something you [Dr Farrell] would consider raising it yourself,” she asked.

Dr Farrell said he would share her concern. “The difficulty for me is I don’t know what precisely what happened here,” he said.

Ms Burke said the family realised they could not be sure what caused Roisín’s death but was aware that there was an ongoing practice of cutting spirits with methanol in the Gili and Limbok islands off Bali.

Ms Burke said a person had died after drinking in the same bar that Roisín and her friends had visited on Gili Trawangan.

“The family are hoping that awareness can be raised around the issue and that young people would avoid drinking arak in these places,” she said.

“Perhaps the Department of Foreign Affairs could include the warning in their travel advice.”

Dr Farrell agreed to contact the department and inform them of the family’s concerns.

Picture: Nora Burke, centre, the mother of Roisín, with supporters at the coroner’s court. Picture: Gareth Chaney, Collins

More in this section

Puzzles logo

Puzzles hub

Cookie Policy Privacy Policy FAQ Help Contact Us Terms and Conditions

© Irish Examiner Ltd