The Taoiseach has offered condolences to the families and friends of a brother and sister who died in a drowning tragedy in Ballybunion, Co Kerry.

They have been named locally as 50-year-old Desmond Byrne, a married father of two, and his 62-year-old sister Muriel Eriksson.

"We're all deeply shocked and saddened at this very tragic and heartbreaking loss of life on what was a beautiful day," Micheál Martin said.

"I want to extend my sincere sympathies to the family and friends of those who lost their lives, particularly to those family members who were present and who witnessed this heartbreaking tragedy," he added.

"I want to pay tribute also to our first responders and emergency services who did everything they could as quickly as they could to respond to the emergency that unfolded," Mr Martin said.

"It reminds us all of how treacherous the seas and oceans can be. But at this point in time our deepest sympathies and hearts are with the people who have been bereaved as a result of this very, very sad tragedy," he added.

The alarm was raised by a teenager shortly after 6pm yesterday when Mr Byrne was washed up on the beach.

Members of Ballybunion Sea and Cliff Rescue and Ballybunion Coast Guard unit began CPR on him, but he was pronounced dead a short time later.

At the same time, Ballybunion Sea and Cliff Rescue searched the water and recovered Ms Eriksson, and transferred her to the beach.

CPR was also carried out, but she too was pronounced dead.

Mr Byrne and Ms Eriksson were on a visit to Kerry.

It is understood Mr Byrne was originally from Athlone, but had been living in Lecarrow in Co Roscommon, while his sister had an address in Malmo, Sweden.

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Their bodies were removed to University Hospital Kerry in Tralee where post mortems are due to be carried out.

Mr Byrne was a member of Lecarrow Lazers Cycling Club in Roscommon.

Club chairman Noel Galvin said: "The whole community is shocked and saddened. We're a small community half way between Athlone and Roscommon. It's terrible news that filtered in last night."

A major operation was launched last night (Pic: Damian Stack)

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, Mr Galvin said Mr Byrne was a "very prominent member of our community and he was a very popular member of our local cycling club.

"We did a lot of charity cycles over the years and he would have been a prominent member in those cycles. If he couldn't do the cycle on the day, he was helping out in some other way. He was enormously liked in the club.

"He had his own carpet fitting business and he was known throughout the midlands.

"Lecarrow is well-known for rallying together during times of tragedies like this. We’ll rally around the family over the next few days and we’ll do what we can. People are just finding it hard to comprehend what happened."

The Irish Coast Guard helicopter from Shannon, Rescue 115 and the Kilrush lifeboat were also involved in the operation.

They were joined by the Fenit inshore lifeboat and the Community Air Ambulance from Mill Street in Co Cork.

The scene at Ballybunion beach last night (Pic: Damian Stack)

The operation was directed from the Marine Rescue Coordination Centre in Valentia.

Irish Coast Guard Operations Manager Michael O'Toole said they received notification of two people in difficulty at Ballybunion beach just after 6pm yesterday and a large scale search was immediately initiated by the Maritime Coordination Centre at Valentia.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, he said: "Unfortunately there was a tragic outcome to the operation ... our thoughts must be with the family and friends of those affected by this incident".

Sinn Féin Councillor in Ballybunion Robert Beasley said the impact of the "double tragedy" is clearly evident among locals and visitors who are "shocked beyond belief".

Speaking on the same programme, he said he estimates that up to 800 people were on the beach yesterday evening as he drove past it less than an hour before the tragedy occurred.