An inquest has heard that a young Kilkenny boy died from injuries sustained after being hit by a sliotar while playing hurling with his classmates during a lunch break at school last year.
Post-mortem results showed the sliotar which struck 13-year-old Harry Byrne, from Clover, Gowran, Co Kilkenny, caused a tear in an artery in his neck which resulted in fatal internal bleeding in the brain.
Kilkenny county coroner Tim Kiely said he did not believe wearing a helmet could have prevented the boy's death given the nature of the injury.
The inquest heard the second-year student at St Kieran’s College in Kilkenny had been playing hurling with friends on a pitch in the school’s grounds at around 1.45pm on 8 November last year.
A teacher at the school, Simon Reidy, gave evidence that he had been supervising the students during the lunchtime break when he was alerted by one of the boys that Harry had been hit and was lying on the ground.
Mr Reidy said he found Harry about 20 yards behind a goal where he had been placed in the recovery position by one of a group of 12 other students who were standing around him.
The teacher said he heard noises coming from the boy which he believed were consistent with someone who had been knocked out, adding that he believed Harry was unconscious, before checking his pulse and found him breathing.
He said another student had explained that he hit the sliotar behind him, which had struck Harry in the neck. The other teenager recounted how Harry had fallen to the ground but had got up again and said: "You hit me."
Mr Reidy said he was told that Harry had gone to pick up the ball but had wobbled before falling on the ground again.
The teacher said he tried to talk to the injured boy, but there was no response and his breathing was very laboured. "He was in a bad way," said Mr Reidy.
He said the college’s vice-principal, Ken Maher, and two other teachers arrived on the scene and the emergency services were alerted while someone also went to get a defibrillator.
Mr Reidy said he and another teacher, Ken Archbold, began doing CPR on the boy for about ten minutes before the paramedics arrived and took over.
Garda Ashley Lowery from Kilkenny Garda Station said Harry was brought to St Luke’s General Hospital in Kilkenny arriving at 2.37pm, but was pronounced dead at 6.20am the following morning.
The inquest heard the boy had suffered three heart attacks.
In a statement provided to the inquest, one of Harry's classmates said there were around 120 students in their year who were all talking and chatting during the lunch break on one of the school’s pitches.
The boy said he had hit the sliotar towards the goal without looking and it had hit Harry who was standing about five metres away from him.
The student said Harry was holding his neck with one of his hands and said he was fine but also had a headache.
The coroner said the boy’s evidence was confirmed by CCTV footage which had captured the incident.
Mr Kiely said he did not believe what happened could have been prevented if Harry had been wearing a helmet, given where he was struck by the ball which had caused an injury to his neck.
"The incident appears to be a really, really, genuinely, unfortunate accident that caused Harry’s death," the coroner observed.
He also noted there had been a very quick reaction to the incident by staff at St Kieran’s College.
Mr Kiely said a post-mortem conducted by Professor Maureen O’Sullivan at Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin has attributed the cause of death to bleeding in the brain due to "a traumatic vertebral artery dissection."
Based on the evidence, the coroner returned a verdict of accidental death.
At the start of the hearing, Mr Kiely acknowledged that it was "a difficult day" for Harry's family, friends and teachers.
The coroner said he was aware that St Kieran’s College had an independent review of the incident carried out and asked that its findings be shared with Harry’s parents, Fergal and Annette Byrne.
Expressing his sympathy to the couple, Mr Kiely said it was "a very, very traumatic event in their lives."
He said it was difficult to comprehend the loss that had been suffered by Harry’s family and friends.
The coroner said it was clear from comments made at the time of Harry’s death that he was "a fantastic child and fantastic son" and was loved by many people, particularly those in the various clubs with which he participated.
Mr Kiely said the teenager’s death was a shock that was felt by all who knew him in Gowran and St Kieran’s College.
"He was a wonderful young boy," the coroner remarked.
Inspector Alma Molloy, on behalf of gardaí in Kilkenny, also offered her sympathy to Harry’s parents and siblings, Jake, Sam and Aimee and his grandparents.