'Dessie was only ever in a super mood — it's hard to believe he's gone'

'Dessie was only ever in a super mood — it's hard to believe he's gone'

Dessie Byrne (pictured) and his sister Muriel Eriksson died in a drowning accident in Ballybunion, Co Kerry.

The moment Robert Beasley knew something was going on was when he saw people on the cliff pointing over at the Men’s Beach.

Situated on the left of Ballybunion Castle next door to the Ladies Beach, a huddle of emergency personnel were gathered around someone on the ground, not far from a rocky outcrop.

The veteran Kerry county councillor thought it might have been an emergency services exercise.

But when he spotted the helicopter on the beach, and an ambulance, he realised it was far more serious than he had first thought.

 Sinn Féin councillor Robert Beasley pictured at the Mens beach in Ballybunion, 24 hours after the bodies of man and woman were taken from the water. Picture: Domnick Walsh / Eye Focus LTD
Sinn Féin councillor Robert Beasley pictured at the Mens beach in Ballybunion, 24 hours after the bodies of man and woman were taken from the water. Picture: Domnick Walsh / Eye Focus LTD

As the realisation of what was happening dawned on him, the same was dawning on other beachgoers, and the atmosphere on the beach suddenly changed.

One minute there was the sound of children playing and laughing and screaming, he said, and the next, an eerie silence began to take hold as people left the beach.

Just about the only noise was the sound of McFaden’s Funfair on a hill overlooking the beach, where children and adults enjoying their holiday were oblivious to the tragedy unfolding below.

The mood changed suddenly when people realised what had happened,” said Mr Beasley.

As soon as the alarm was raised, the Irish Coast Guard’s marine rescue co-ordination centre on Valentia Island triggered and then co-ordinated a major search and rescue operation.

They tasked the Ballybunion unit of the Irish Coast Guard, the Ballybunion community inshore rescue boat, and the RNLI lifeboat near Kilrush, in Co Clare, about 25 minutes away across the Shannon Estuary, to the scene.

Units of the National Ambulance Service, the Coast Guard’s Shannon-based Rescue 115 helicopter and the north Cork-based air ambulance, Helimed 92, were also tasked as gardaí rushed to the scene.

The mood in Ballybunion remained fairly subdued on the beach yesterday, as many people returned to where they had witnessed the emergency operation to try to rescue siblings Dessie Byrne and Muriel Eriksson.

None of them wanted to talk about it.

But facing the spot where the siblings entered the water was a surfboard, left there by a lifeguard to mark the spot.

'Tides can take you right out'

Ivan Conway, a stalwart of Limerick hurling, who was on holiday with his family said on Friday that a lifeguard rushed over to his children as they played in the water and warned them to stay away from that area.

“He hadn’t seen me and thought they were in their own,” Mr Conway, from Clarina, Ballybrown, Limerick, said.

“But he told us that there was a lot of turbulence at the particular part of the beach.

“He said the tides can take you right out.” 

Siblings were 'very close'

Carpenter and carpet fitter Dessie, who was originally from Athlone, lived in the village of Lecarrow with his wife and their other son, Dean, who is 19.

He moved to the village from Baylough, near Athlone, about 20 years ago and had been very active in the local community.

He was also a keen cyclist, an avid swimmer, and a member of the local cycling club, Lecarrow Lasers.

He would have been well used to Ballybunion’s beaches, as it is understood he and Muriel frequently went on holiday to Ballybunion together.

A neighbour of his happened to be in Ballybunion yesterday and told another holidaymaker that the siblings were “very close”.

Muriel Eriksson died in a drowning accident in Ballybunion, Co Kerry.
Muriel Eriksson died in a drowning accident in Ballybunion, Co Kerry.

Muriel, who attended St Joseph's College, Summerhill, in Athlone, was married and lived in Malmo, Sweden.

She was mother to at least one son.

Autopsies on their bodies were due to be carried out on Friday evening at University Hospital Kerry in Tralee.

Long-term friend Aengus O’Rourke, who is the chairman of Westmeath County Council, said: “Des was a great guy to have in your company.

“He was a real, real fun guy.

To be honest, none of us who know him believe he's gone, because you can't.

“I would never have considered Des to be someone who wouldn't be there.

“If it were a social occasion or an event of some type, some sporting event of some kind or another — he’d always be there.

“He was a hard worker, and a grafter.”  

Mr O’Rourke, who — at 53 — is around the same age as Dessie was, said he last saw him two weeks ago in a restaurant in Athlone.

The pair bumped into each other while out with their respective families for Sunday lunch.

“He was in great form,” he said.

Dessie was only ever in a super mood.

“He was a great character, and her had a great attitude to life.

“He was a very positive guy, and a good guy to be around, and I always really benefited from something by being in his company.

“When I bumped into him recently, we had a laugh about some of those times.

Little did I know at the time that that would be the last time I would see him alive.” 

Gardaí, who took witness statements from people in the area at the time, are treating the matter as a tragic accident and a file will be prepared for the coroner.

Roscommon county councillor Laurence Fallon described Mr Byrne as “an absolute gentleman”.

“Everyone is in shock," he said. “What has happened is a terrible shock to everybody.

He was a great family man and the one word that everybody has been using about him is the word ‘gentleman’.

“He was an absolute gentleman.

“He was very involved in the local community.”

Funeral details

Dessie Byrne will repose alongside his sister Muriel, at his home on Monday evening from 4pm to 8pm and his removal will be Tuesday morning to St John's Church, Lecarrow, arriving for Mass of the Resurrection at 12 noon.

Burial afterwards in the local cemetery.

His funeral notice on RIP.ie says he predeceased his "beloved" mother Una and father Dessie Snr and he is missed by his "heartbroken partner" Paulette, sons Dean and Josh, Paulette's daughter Regina and her sons Blake and Jace, brothers Kenny, Donal, Justin and Colm, brother-in-law Kris (Sweden), sisters-in-law Maggie and Nong, aunts Kathleen and Kay, uncle John, nephews, nieces, relatives, neighbours and his many good friends.

"May His Gentle Soul Rest In Peace," the notice adds.

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