This Christmas will be a heartbreaking affair for the families and friends of the 242 Irish people who died overseas this year.

The Department of Foreign affairs says the number of people who died in tragic circumstances while away for holidays or work was the highest number ever recorded.

Among the Irish citizens who lost their lives were the three young doctors on board the doomed Air France plane which plunged into the Atlantic in June, Fr Jeremiah Roche who was macheted to death in Kenya and buried yesterday and Michael Dwyer who was gunned down in Bolivia in April.

The majority of the 242 deaths were from natural causes or accidents such as drowning. The numbers are a sharp increase from 204 in 2008 and 150 in 2007.

Overall, the Department of Foreign Affairs says that last year was "set to be one of the busiest on record," as they dealt with 1,200 incidents involving Irish overseas.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin said: "The significant increase in deaths abroad and other incidents involving our citizens over the past 12 months is a reminder how important it is for all of us to take precautions before travelling."

He said: "As we approach Christmas our thoughts are of course will all those who have had to deal with a sudden bereavement over the past year."

Three college friends, Aisling Butler, 26, from County Tipperary; Jane Deasy, 27, from Dublin; and Eithne Walls, 29, from Co Down perished when their Air France Airbus disappeared over the Atlantic on a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris in June.

Michael Dwyer, 24, was shot dead by Bolivian police in a Santa Cruz hotel. The Bolivian government claimed he had been part of a plot to assassinate President Evo Morales, a claim that Mr Dwyer’s family said was preposterous.