A grieving mother - days after she buried her 25-year-old son from a drugs overdose - has asked: “Do you want to end up like Anto?”
Maggie Byrne is suffering intense grief but has bravely spoken of her fears for other young people and called on them to quit the drugs scene.
Since Anthony (Anto) Byrne was found by his mother at his flat last Tuesday morning, the Meadowbrook woman has been adamant that his death should not be in vain.
She rarely left her son’s coffin as he was waked last week and spoke to all the young people who came to mourn him.
She asked them: “Do you want to end up like Anto? Do you want to put your parents through this?”
Anto Byrne was a popular, lovable lad in Craigavon, big-hearted with ginger hair and brown eyes. “He was a poser with lots of friends - a McGregor look-a-like. His coffin was just full of photos from them, so much so that you could just see his head,” said his sister Jean Byrne. “He always had health issues. He just never liked himself. He always wanted to be somewhere else. Not so much when he was sober but when he took the drugs and the drink, he hated himself.
“He couldn’t drink without taking the drugs. That gave him the courage to do it. That’s when the demons appeared. One fuelled the other,” said his uncle Brendan Duffy.
Anto’s sister said there has always been a cry for help. Even this time.
Jean said that he had made a phone call and used a bolt from a crossbow to etch on the wall of his flat at Dingwell Park. It said: “If I die bu.”
She believes he meant to write, that if he died, bury him beside his aunt Eileen who was murdered.
Eileen Duffy (19), Katrina Rennie (17) and Brian Frizzell (29) were gunned down in a mobile sweet shop in Drumbeg on March 28, 1991.
His sister describes how the day before his death, Anto joined the gym again, went to the sunbeds, went shopping and texted his personal trainer to start training again. “Mum brought him round some gravy for his dinner and that was the last we saw of him,” Jean said.
His uncle Brendan explained that he was probably on a high and that Anto suffered from a personality disorder. When he took the drugs and alcohol then he would hit rock bottom. He said there had been previous suicide attempts but when Anto was well he was ‘the best wee lad. He would have done anything for you’. He was always very close to his family. “When he was sober he didn’t want to die,” said Brendan.
His sister said a bag of two pills were found close to Anto. When she asked what they were, someone told her, ‘they’re only yokes’. Jean said: “How the hell are you supposed to know what that means? And it was the way they said it, as if it was just normal. I later found out they were Ecstasy tablets.”
His mum said: “They are selling them like sweets. And then they give these drugs out on tap as well, so then you owe these drug dealers.”
Maggie believes her son’s death was ‘meant to be’. “If I can save one person’s life from drugs, that’s all I want. This has broken my heart but at the same time he is at peace. He has no more demons and no one to hurt him anymore. He has been struggling for 14/15 years.”
“Everytime he went out to have a drink, I felt sick to my stomach because I was worried he was going to do something,” said his mum.
The family admitted that Anto led a chequered life and spent a number of times in jail for drink related offences. “He never robbed anyone or harmed anyone but himself,” said his mother.
“Anyone taking drugs at the minute - you need to look at the consequences,” she said.
“If any of you are using drugs, please get off them now. And if you are taking drugs to cover up mental health issues, don’t be afraid to ask for help, cause the drugs are not going to help,” said Brendan. “There is a stigma attached to mental health issues and people seem afraid to talk about it.”
Mum Maggie said: “If there was any way of taking these drug dealers off the streets.”
Mr Anthony Byrne died suddenly on September 27. He was the dearly beloved son of Anthony and Maggie and loving daddy of Orla-Rose, beloved brother of Jean, Sean and Eileen, loving uncle of Shea, Kayleigh-Rose and Cara, and nephew of James and Mandy, nephew of Brendan and Jaimie, Sean and Karen, and Brenda and Connor. He is also sadly missed by Jean’s partner Connor.
His funeral was on Friday to St Anthony’s Church with interment afterwards in St Colman’s Cemetery, Donations in lieu to PIPS c/o Jack McLearnon & Son 75 North Street Lurgan.