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'The family has never forgotten' - gardaí appeal over fatal 1987 fire that killed woman and two children

20-year-old Barbara Doyle and her two nieces, 8-year-old Mary Ellen Byrne and 3-year Kerrie Ann Byrne, all died in the blaze.

Mary Ellen Byrne - Elizabeth Byrne (mother of children)- Kerrie Byrne (l to r) Mary Ellen Byrne, her mother Elizabeth, Kerrie Ann Byrne

Updated 2.35pm

GARDAÍ IN KILDARE say they have upgraded a 30-year-old investigation, into a fatal fire that killed a woman and two children, to a murder inquiry after ‘significant new evidence’ came to light.

Thirty years ago today 20-year-old Barbara Doyle and her two nieces 8-year-old Mary Ellen Byrne and 3-year-old Kerrie Ann Byrne, whom she had been babysitting, died in the house fire at Church Lane in Kilcock.

The fire broke out between 3am and 4am while the children’s parents Aidan (who is now deceased) and Elizabeth (Barbara’s sister) were attending a 21st birthday party in the area.

20170920_110255 (l to r) Detective Inspector Paul Dolan, Chief Superintendent Gerard Roche, Superintendent Gerard Wall, pictured today at Leixlip Garda Station

Speaking at a press conference in Leixlip to launch the appeal this afternoon, Chief Superintendent Gerard Roche said that ‘new evidence’ had sparked the decision to upgrade the investigation on the 30th anniversary of the tragedy.

“New information has come into our possession and we now believe the fire was started deliberately,” Roche said.

This case has never been closed, from time to time it has been revisited, but within the last five years it has been reviewed with the serious crime review team also helping to develop the case further.

Fire Church Lane Kilcock 2 20-9-1987 The house on Church Lane, pictured after the fire in September 1987


The Chief Superintendent would not be drawn on the nature of the evidence that had come to light, but did say that “there is not just one strand of evidence, this is a culmination of a number of factors”.

“It is a very significant thing to bring an inquiry up to being a murder investigation,” he said.

Roche said that the young girls’ mother, Elizabeth Byrne (who still lives in the house where the fire occurred), was not taken aback by the news of the murder investigation as gardaí have been liaising with her regarding the inquiry for some time.

“I don’t think you could say it was a shock, no, she has spoken to Detective Inspector Paul Dolan (who is leading the inquiry) on many occasions in recent times,” he said.

At the time of her death, Barbara Doyle was single and living in the Kilcock area.

f1 Barbara Doyle

The cause of the fire, meanwhile, has never become public knowledge, Roche said.

“It’s 30 years on and the family is obviously quite upset on this anniversary,” he said.

But this has never been forgotten by the family, nor by the gardaí either. On this anniversary it seemed like a very opportune time to appeal for information.

Roche said that gardaí were appealing for anyone who may have been in the Kilcock area early on that Sunday morning, 20 September 1987, to come forward with any information they might have.

He would not say if the gardaí have specific suspects in mind, although he did say that possible motives have been investigated.

“We would ask that anyone who was in the Kilcock area that night – who may have been at the 21st, or was just present in the locality, to come forward.

At the time Kilcock was a small village, far from the town it is today.

Roche said that the investigating team feel it is ‘significant’ that the fire was reported between 3am and 4am that morning.

“It’s significant because we believe people may have been travelling home from the 21st who could have seen things in the vicinity.”

They might have seen people they knew, or people they didn’t know, particularly around the Church Lane area or in the village in general.
They may have felt that something was insignificant at the time, but if anyone has any information whatsoever we want to hear it.
We are satisfied there are people who will remember this fire and the deaths of Barbara, Mary Ellen and Kerrie Ann, and who have not yet spoken to gardaí.

Roche added a further appeal that “the privacy of the Byrne and Doyle families be respected at this time”.

Anyone who has any information regarding this case has been asked to contact the special incident room at Leixlip Garda Station on 01 6667800, or the Garda Confidential Line on 1800 666111.

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