The inquests into the deaths of two US tourists who were both killed after their pony and trap plunged 15ft down a steep rocky ravine in the Gap of Dunloe in Killarney, Co Kerry, heard how the spot where the couple died was “treacherous”.
There was no barrier or wall between the edge of the road and the steep rocky ravine — and no barrier had been erected since the incident which claimed the lives of Rosalyn Joy Few, 64, and her partner Normand Larose, 62, in April 2018.
No external factor, such as a passing car, was involved in the plunge, and the horse, which was later euthanised in the gully, knew it was slipping and had tried to resist falling over the edge.
The 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 Gap of Dunloe traditional traps are unlike the Killarney four-wheel jaunting cars. Drivers sit in the back, they are two wheeled-vehicles, and they have lights and no brakes. It all rests on the horse or pony to control the steep downhill journey, the inquest heard.
Ponymen in the remote Gap are not licensed or issued with any guidelines or recommendations from Kerry County Council, it also emerged.
However, the drivers are professional and while smaller ponies are under pressure in the narrow and winding mountain pass of the Gap, they are 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 agreed with 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 the road markings. The left front shoe lost traction and the weight of the tub and the passengers pushed him over the edge.
He said that speed was not a factor, adding that 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 agreed. However, barriers, as well as brakes on both wheels of the Gap traps, would be far more effective than signage, he remarked.
Garda O’Brien agreed with the barrister that the spot, near the Iron Bridge, was “treacherous”.
Dan Casey, aged 53, of Dunloe Upper, Beaufort, told the inquest he had been a ponyman for 37 years. He picked up Ms Few and Mr Normand at 12.30pm at Brandon’s Cottage.
“Suddenly, without warning, my horse Johnny bolted,” said Mr Casey.
He tried to bring him back into control and called his name and he himself fell backwards. The entire incident took 30 seconds, he said.
Replying to questions from coroner Aisling Quilter, Mr Casey said there had been nothing to spook the horse. The horse was “at walking pace” at the time.
Aisling Quilter, coroner for south and east Kerry, said postmortems had found that Ms Few, of Phoenix, Arizona, and Mr Larose, also of Arizona and originally from Canada, had both died 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.