A US couple vacationing in Co Kerry died in a freak accident when the pony of their jarvey cart slipped and catapulted them down a 16-foot drop at the Gap of Dunloe.
The pony's metal-shod front left hoof is believed to have slipped on a "treacherous" steep descent in the Gap of Dunloe resulting in the animal, a trap and two US tourists being catapulted down into a rock-strewn ravine in the Kerry beauty spot, reports the Irish Independent.
The revelation came following an inquest which heard that the Arizona couple, on a dream Irish holiday in April 2018, died from catastrophic head injuries when they plunged onto rocks with the trap then tumbling down on top of them.
US couples dream Irish holiday to trace ancestral roots
Normand Larose (62) and Rosalyn Joy Few (64) along with other family members were on the second day of their holiday in Ireland to trace their ancestral roots.
Described as a "fun-loving couple," who "radiated happiness everywhere they went," the family said they do not want any other family to suffer their nightmare of loss.
"Joy and Norm...touched many people's lives. They loved their family and their friends deeply and unconditionally, " the inquest heard.
The Kerry trap operator, Dan Casey, who was uninjured in the accident after managing to jump off the trap before it plummeted into the ravine, extended his deepest condolences to the family from Arizona.
Through his solicitor, Casey said: "There is not a day that (I) do not think about and pray for the deceased."
Evidence heard from jarvey cart driver
Giving direct evidence, 53-year-old said Casey said he has no idea what caused his six-year-old pony "Johnny" to suddenly bolt that day.
"Suddenly and without warning, my horse 'Johnny' bolted. He slipped down an embankment on the left-hand side."
Casey, a trap operator for 37 years, said his pony had worked the Gap of Dunloe route in 2017 and had previously worked in Killarney.
"Johnny" was described as experienced and of a good demeanor.
"I don't recall the horse slipping anywhere on the road, to be honest."
Casey said the pony had special pins on his shoes to offer extra grip.
Couple's family came across scene of accident
Seconds after the accident, Few's daughter, Tonya; son-in-law, Bill Walter; and her two grandchildren, Gavin and Catelyn, came upon the horrific accident scene in two other ponies and traps.
One jarvey operator, Eugene Tagney, wept as he tried to comfort the grief-stricken US tourists at the scene with Tonya asking him: "Is that my mother down there?"
Walter scrambled down into the ravine in a desperate bid to help the couple who were pinned to the rocks underneath the cart.
He lifted the cart and Few gave three breaths but there was nothing from Larose.
When he checked he did not feel there was a pulse.
Both had suffered catastrophic head injuries and were pronounced dead at the scene.
The duo later had to be recovered by Kerry Mountain Rescue volunteers as a result of the challenging terrain onto which they had fallen.
The pony later had to be put down.
Kerry Coroner Aisling Quilter recorded verdicts of accidental death for both US holidaymakers.
The coroner said that a post mortem examination conducted at University Hospital Kerry determined that Few suffered blunt force trauma to the head, inflicting a fatal traumatic brain injury.
Larose, who was originally from Canada, died from similar injuries including blunt force trauma to his skull and brain.
The inquest jury issued a single recommendation that a special barrier is erected at the accident scene, which involves the most dangerous part of the Gap of Dunloe trek.
Irish police insist pony traveling at walking pace
Garda (Irish police) inspector James O'Brien said that had the accident occurred just a few feet ahead, the couple would have been catapulted onto grass and furze bushes.
O'Brien said the horse was in good condition, the trap had been recently serviced and had no mechanical defects while the pony had been shod just one month beforehand.
Four witnesses, including Few's daughter, Tonya, and her husband, Bill Walter, said they felt the pony and trap had been traveling fast during an earlier part of the trek.
"I asked: 'Why was Joy and Normand's cart going so fast? They were missing all the scenery,'" Tonya said.
"I felt the driver of my mother’s carriage was going too fast, it was way faster than the other two.”
However, the three pony and trap operators insisted the trek had been undertaken at a normal pace - with the trap at walking pace as it negotiated the severe bends by the Black Bridge.
O'Brien said that, given the treacherous nature of the descent to the Black Bridge, had the pony and trap been going too fast it would have overturned much farther up the road.
"There is no question but that the pony was at walking pace," he said.
"I believe the pony's left front shoe lost traction with the road (during the descent)."
The Gap of Dunloe, Co Kerry
The Gap of Dunloe is one of Kerry's most popular visitor attractions due to its picturesque landscape and scenery located over eight miles from Killarney.
"The Gap," is a narrow mountain pass forged between the MacGillycuddy Reeks and Purple Mountain by glacial flows.
The river running through the gap is the River Loe from where "the Gap" gets its name.
The accident happened at Black Bridge, not far from Kate Kearney's Cottage which marks the beginning of "the Gap."
Tragically, the accident happened at the steepest part of the descent where the Gap of Dunloe road passed a bridge parapet by a deep ravine.
In 2017, US tourist Janet Price (69) died from multiple injuries when she came off her hired bicycle near a notorious bend in the Gap of Dunloe.
Her daughters warned the mother of two would never have attempted the steep descent had proper warning signs been in place.
The Price family insisted that signage should be in place warning that the descent is not for inexperienced cyclists.
Have you ever been to the Gap of Dunloe in Co Kerry? Do you consider it safe?
Let us know in the comments below.