Ben Regan, who was just 23 months old, suffered fatal injuries when a heavy steel horse-box divider fell on him as he went to feed hens with his grandmother on her farm on the Mizen Peninsula on May 23, 2015.
The jury at Cork City Coroner’s Court, which heard heartbreaking eye-witness evidence of the incident, returned a unanimous verdict of accidental death.
Ben, who was just days away from celebrating his second birthday, lived with his parents, Debbie and Roy, at the family home at their Schull Equestrian Centre in West Cork. The couple was celebrating the recent birth of their second child.
The inquest was told that Ben was with his grandmother, Emily Nolan, who lived on an adjoining farm at Derryleary, Schull, when the accident happened.
Ms Nolan wept in the witness box as she recalled how she and Ben went to feed the hens and collect eggs from the henhouse on her farmyard just before lunchtime that day.
She told coroner Philip Comyn that the door of the henhouse was stiff and that she had to apply force to open it.
However, when she tugged the door open, the horse-box divider, which had been standing against the outside wall of the henhouse, toppled and fell on Ben, who suffered massive head injuries.
Ms Nolan said she scooped up her grandson immediately and ran with him in her arms towards the equestrian centre, calling for help.
Ben’s father, Roy, dialled 999 and two local doctors, Helen Finlay and Brian O’Connell, arrived at the scene. In a statement, Dr Finlay said Ben was unconscious, had no pulse, and was not breathing.
Paramedics, members of Goleen Coast Guard, and Schull Inshore Rescue Service also arrived to help, as the Shannon-based Coast Guard helicopter was tasked to the scene.
Ben was airlifted with his father and Dr O’Connell to Cork University Hospital, but he was pronounced dead a short time later.
Assistant State pathologist Margot Bolster said the cause of death was traumatic brain injuries due to blunt force trauma, and the findings of her post mortem were consistent with a heavy weight falling on the little boy.
Health and Safety Authority inspector David Barry said he examined the scene, and the circumstances which led to the incident, and found there was no evidence that Ms Nolan was in any way negligent in her care of Ben.
He said his report was part of a Garda file forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions, who directed that there be no prosecution under health-and-safety legislation.
Mr Comyn expressed his sympathies to Ben’s parents, and grandparents.
“It is a real tragedy for someone so young to die in such circumstances,” he said. “It reinforces the need for extreme vigilance on all farms at all times.”