Gap of Dunloe location where two US tourists died ‘treacherous’
Inquest into deaths told horse knew it was slipping into a ravine and had tried to resist falling
Gap of Dunloe trap driver Dan Casey (left) with his wife Breda and solicitor Dan O’Connor at Killarney court for the inquests into the deaths of US tourists Normand Larose and Joy Few. Photograph: Don MacMonagle
Rosalyn Joy Few (64) and her partner Normand Larose (62) were killed after their pony and trap plunged 15ft down a rock ravine. There was no barrier or wall between the edge of the road and the ravine, and no barrier has been erected since the incident in April 2018.
No external factor, such as a passing car, was involved, and the horse, which was later put down in the gully, knew it was slipping and had tried to resist falling over the edge.
Experienced ponyman Dan Casey had “desperately” tried to control his horse, and had jumped from the rear door of the trap as horse and trap left the road, the inquest in Killarney heard.
The inquest also heard Gap of Dunloe traditional traps were unlike Killarney four-wheel jaunting cars. Drivers sat in the back, the traps were two-wheeled vehicles, and they had no brakes. It rested on the horse or pony to control the steep downhill journey.
Ponymen in the gap were not licensed, and were not issued with any guidelines or recommendations from Kerry County Council, it emerged. The job of ponyman, as the trap drivers are known, was handed down generation after generation within a small number of families.
However, the drivers were professional, and while smaller ponies were under pressure in the narrow and winding mountain pass of the gap, they were not outside their comfort zone, said Garda forensic inspector James O’Brien.
The six-year-old horse had been a jarvey horse in Killarney, and was not as seasoned as other gap horses as it had only been in the gap one season, Garda O’Brien told Sheila Reidy, barrister for the families of the deceased.
“The pony knew he was going over the edge, and he had tried to resist it,” the garda said from his examination of road markings.
He said speed was not a factor. Both trap and horse were in good condition, and the horse had been shod in recent weeks.
There were no road warning signs at the steep spot, he said. Barriers and brakes on both wheels of the gap traps would be far more effective than signage.
Coroner for south and east Kerry Aisling Quilter said postmortems had found that Ms Few, of Phoenix, Arizona , and Mr Larose, also of Arizona and originally from Canada, had both died on April 9th, 2018, of blunt force trauma with severe traumatic brain injury due to a fall on rocks.
The six-man jury returned a verdict of accidental death after almost three hours of evidence. They also recommended that barriers be erected.
The couple were the lead trap in a convoy of three going down the gap from Brandon’s Cottage. Behind them were Ms Joy’s two grandchildren and behind them was a third trap occupied by Ms Joy’s daughter Tonya Tier and her husband Bill Walther.
In her deposition read to the inquest, Ms Tier said prior to the accident which she did not see her mother’s carriage was going “way too fast,” and a gap had opened up between the lead and the other carriages.
The first witnesses and among the first on the scene were walkers Patrick Nolan and his wife Elizabeth from Tuam, Co Galway.
Mr Nolan said the horse and trap passed him prior to the incident, and appeared skittish and was slipping and sliding on the tarmac.
His wife said most of the gap horses generally appeared to her to be exhausted and in poor condition.
Ponyman Dan Casey (53) of Dunloe Upper, Beaufort, told the inquest “suddenly without warning my horse Johnny bolted”. He tried to bring him back into control, and called his name and he himself fell backwards.
Mr Casey said Johnny had “a very quiet demeanour”, and he had had no problems with him. “I have never previously had an accident on the gap.”
Replying to questions from the coroner, Mr Casey said there had been nothing to spook the horse. The horse was “at walking pace” at the time.
The horse had pins on its shoes to prevent slippage.“I don’t recall the horse slipping anywhere on the road,” said Mr Casey.
His solicitor, Dan O’Connor, said his client extended “the deepest and most heartfelt sympathy”, and there was not a day when Mr Casey did not pray for the deceased.
Solicitor for the families of the deceased, Adrian Hegarty, said they wished to thank the people of Killarney, their hotel, bus driver and the emergency services for their support.