Belfast Telegraph

He just filled every inch of the house: Widow of man who fell to his death in Mournes tells of deep sense of loss one year on

Sean (left) with wife Bernie (right) and children Padraig, Shane and Blinne
Sean (left) with wife Bernie (right) and children Padraig, Shane and Blinne
Happy moments with some of his grandchildren
Sean and with his father, Pat
Claire McNeilly

By Claire McNeilly

The heartbroken widow of a much-loved father and grandfather who died in the Mournes said she laid her hand gently on his coffin during Requiem Mass because she "just didn't want to let him go".

Bernie Byrne, who was speaking on the first anniversary of her husband's death, said it had been a "very tough year" for the family, who also lost Sean's 94-year-old dad Pat over Father's Day weekend last June.

But the mother-of-three and grandmother-of-six told how she bravely battled her profound pain and sadness because she knew her spouse of almost 43 years "wouldn't want me moping around like a weeping willow".

Sean Byrne (63), a keen amateur photographer and a popular member of the Camlough community, had been walking with a friend to take pictures on Wee Binnian on Sunday, January 13, 2019 when he fell and died in a tragic accident.

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Sean and with his father, Pat

Recalling his funeral, which was held in the Church of St Malachy, Carrickcruppen, on January 17, Mrs Byrne told the Belfast Telegraph that it was "a very emotional" day for everyone who knew and loved Sean.

"His death was such a shock; everybody thought of Sean as someone who would live as long as his daddy," she said.

"He's a big, big loss. Every day I try to do something he would've wanted me to do and that gives me a reason to go on.

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"We were teenagers when we met and we were married for almost 43 years.

"He just filled every inch of the house. It's very hard to explain the void left by someone who was such a big character. It's so strange without him."

Bernie said her children - Padraig, Blinne Byrne Lappin and Shane - and grandchildren - Chris, Eireann, Sean og, Liam, Oisin and Eilbhe, aged between four and 15 - were a great help during the difficult, dark days after Sean's death.

Casting her mind back further still, however, she also revealed her late husband's words of wisdom after he had had a pacemaker fitted 12 years ago following a serious illness.

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Happy moments with some of his grandchildren

"He made a brilliant recovery and he really looked after himself afterwards... he actually looked better than he had for 10 years beforehand," Mrs Byrne said.

"But I remember him saying that if anything had happened to him, he wouldn't have wanted me to be moping around like a weeping willow.

"He told me he'd want me to get on with my own life. And he said the best tribute to him would be me progressing."

Fighting back tears, Bernie, who poignantly placed her hand on Sean's coffin which sat in front of her pew throughout the service in the small Co Armagh chapel a year ago this Friday, added: "I was trying to hold on to the last..."

Mrs Byrne told how her late husband brought a lot of joy to all his family and friends.

"He was a very popular, happy, positive person," she said.

"He had an opinion on everything. He always wore his colours on his sleeve and he was very much 'live and let live'.

"He adored his grandchildren and had a brilliant way with them. They came to our house to visit him, not me.

"The younger ones still ask me where grandad has gone. They can't understand it."

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Camlough man Sean Byrne walking in the Mournes with one of his grandchildren

Mr Byrne lived beside his elderly parents Pat, who passed away on June 14, 2019, and Rose (88), and several of his nine siblings.

Before his retirement he worked delivering home fuels in the family business, Byrne Fuel.

Referring to former senior policeman Robbie Robinson (64), an experienced hill walker who died in a separate fall in the Mournes an hour after Sean on the same day, Bernie said she has been in touch with his widow Barbara over the last 12 months.

"We've met for coffee several times and it's been lovely to have someone who really understands what you're going through," she said. "The Robinson family are lovely. We've shared our grief."

Mrs Byrne still hears the last words her husband said to her that morning before he left home for a final time.

"He told me it was only going to be a short walk; that he'd be back for lunch," she said.

"When the policeman turned up on the doorstep later that day to break the news, I thought he was going to tell me that Sean had slipped and hurt his leg or something. I don't know why I thought that."

Bernie said the family will be fundraising this year to raise money for the Mourne Mountain Rescue Team (MMRT) but they also want to back groups that Sean supported when he was alive.

"The weekend that Sean's father died - he passed away on the Friday and it would've been Sean's birthday on the Sunday - we were supposed to be fundraising for MMRT but we only managed to do a little because of events," she said.

"That's why we're trying to do something this year instead. We're so grateful for what they did.

"Members of the family have already raised £500 and we're going to keep going in his memory. We hope to do more for some causes that Sean had always raised money for or were important to him this year."

Meanwhile, Mrs Byrne told how the days can be difficult to get through - such as yesterday, the first anniversary of his death - and especially Sundays, which is the day that Sean was so cruelly taken from them.

"There's something about realising you're a year in... you can't look back and say 'this time last year' anymore," Bernie said.

"All those times when you think in your head that somebody is coming back home, you suddenly realise, finally, that they're definitely not coming back home."

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