The sun shone in Ballybunion on Friday afternoon, at odds with the sadness and shock hanging over the popular tourist town. People there and in wider north Kerry were trying to come to terms with the tragedy that struck just the evening previously.
any holidaymakers come here to enjoy the beautiful beaches, the entertainment and the buzz that pulses through the town. On Friday, that buzz was clouded by the loss of two lives on the Men’s Beach 24 hours before that. Two siblings died on the beach on Thursday evening. A family member who travelled with them was left in shock.
Desmond ‘Dessie’ Byrne (52) died in the tragedy after he tried to rescue his 62-year-old Swedish-based sister, Muriel Eriksson.
Mr Byrne’s son was on Ballybunion beach and is believed to have witnessed part of the incident unfold on Thursday afternoon.
Fewer people than usual walked the beach on Friday, and fewer still were in the water, reminded as they had been of the sea’s power, even on a beach as usually safe as this.
“People are quiet today, the beach is quieter. It is usually buzzing, but not today. Everyone is shocked, it is hard to comprehend what happened. You would look at the sea with a new respect today,” said one holidaymaker who spends her summers in the north Kerry town.
She is one of hundreds who own mobile homes in Ballybunion – many of them overlooking the sea that claimed the lives of Mr Byrne and Ms Eriksson. Accompanying them on their holiday was Mr Byrne’s teenage son.
Another father, on holidays from Cork, witnessed the terrible events, and said he was fearful of letting the children back into the water.
“People are out and about this morning, but the mood is low,” he said.
“The sea is quieter… My wife doesn’t want the children to go into the sea now.
“It is an awful thing to happen.”
At Mass in Ballybunion on Friday morning, Fr Sean Hanafin prayed for the siblings and for the rescue crews who rushed to the scene.
Fr Hanafin spoke about a similar accidental drowning that occurred in August 30 years ago. That tragedy claimed the lives of a father and son in a cave off the beach. Fast forward from 1992, and a community finds itself in a similar state of shock.
Donal Liston, who is chairman of Ballybunion Community Forum, said everyone is searching for answers.
“Everyone is decimated by the turn of events,” Mr Liston said. “It is hard to comprehend. We are anxiously waiting to find out what happened.”
He, too, recalled the similar tragedy of 30 years ago. Back then, it took weeks for the gloom to lift from the town. It will be some time, too, before Ballybunion finds its feet this time around.