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Family appeals for traffic limit at top tourist spot

Congestion is leading to a diminution of the Gap experience for some visitors

THE family of a woman who lost her life in an accident in the Gap of Dunloe in the summer of 2017 has appealed for a limit to be placed on the number of vehicles allowed on the popular scenic route in the interests of public safety, KillarneyToday.com has learned.

Janet Price (69) from Seattle, Washington, was cycling through the Gap on the afternoon of May 30, 2017 when she encountered a severe downhill bend with no warning signs or markings to alert cyclists to the dangers.

She suffered fatal injuries in the fall from her bicycle and was pronounced dead at the scene.

Her husband, Don Theiler, was cycling behind her on the road and he came across the incident which an inquest later ruled to be an accidental death in accordance with the medical evidence.

Mr Theiler and Janet Price’s daughters, Jennifer and Erika, have now made a submission to Kerry County Council which is currently undertaking a public consultation to seek observations, views and suggestions from members of the public and stakeholders about how the Gap of Dunloe area should be managed into the future.

The local authority is seeking opinions from many perspectives, including tourism, transport, access and the environment and the deadline for submissions in January 29 next.

A spectacular photograph showing the evening light illuminating the long and winding road leading to the head of the Gap of Dunloe.
Picture: Valerie O’Sullivan

The family has asked for vehicular traffic allowed on the road to be restricted to residents and other authorised vehicles which would improve the environment for visitors to the Gap in addition to making the road immeasurably safer for everyone.

“It will improve air and water quality as a result of a reduction in emissions of pollutants from the vehicles using the road. It will improve the overall experience for all of the visitors to the road by reducing congestion and removing the vehicles which detract from the vistas which make a visit so rewarding,” the submission read.

“All of the individuals who visit deserve to do so in a completely safe manner. Unfortunately, that is not possible at this time,” the family submission maintained.

They have asked Kerry County Council to keep them appraised of what actions it will be taking as a result of the public consultation.

Ms Price’s family had previously outlined concerns about safety on the road in a letter to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport shortly after the accident occurred three and a half years ago.

But, on returning to the scene in Killarney 2018, they noted that the issues they raised had not been addressed and, they believed, the congestion in the area appeared even worse.

In that letter to the department, Don Theiler said the road was very narrow and shared by hikers, bikers, pony carts, farm vehicles and automobiles.

“There are numerous blind curves with people and vehicles traveling in both directions. There is virtually no signage on the road warning people of impending dangerous conditions ahead,” he said.

The Gap of Dunloe where a holiday cycle ended in tragedy

“There are a number of areas that could be made to offer much safer passage with a few signs and, perhaps, a flashing light or a mirror for especially hazardous conditions,” he added.

Mr Theiler said the spot where his wife was killed was too narrow for vehicles to easily pass one another and it was impossible to see anything or anyone coming in the opposite direction “until they are virtually on top of one another”.

He suggested at the time that consideration be given to introducing a limited access system, such as a gate, to allow only authorised motor vehicles to use the road, with alternate access for pony carts, hikers and bicycles.

“Before she was killed, Janet and I were compelled to get off the narrow road and dismount our bikes to allow cars and vans to pass. Most of these vehicles appeared to be filled with people taking in the scenery who were clearly not residents or farmers who need access to the road,” Mr Theiler stated.

A month after the tragedy in 2017, a grieving Don Theiler penned an open letter to the people of Killarney for what he described as the remarkable kindness, generosity and compassion he received in the days that followed the accident.

The accident happened close to this spot at Black Lough in the Gap of Dunloe

“You were there at the worst moment in my life and helped ease the pain in extraordinary ways, most especially with the selfless help of some wonderful people,” he wrote.

In the letter sent to Killarney Garda Station, Don also told how moved he was that total strangers had placed flowers at the accident site as a tribute to Janet.

“It touched my heart deeply to see this tribute to a wonderful woman that they did not know. Thank you Killarney. You will be forever in our hearts,” he wrote.

World renowned for its scenery, the Gap of Dunloe is an iconic and internationally recognised feature of the Kerry landscape and it is one of the finest examples of a glaciated valley in Western Europe.

It is an environmentally sensitive area and is a Special Area of Conservation, being part of the Killarney National Park, Macgillycuddy’s Reeks and Caragh River Catchment SAC.

The council has stressed that it is important, therefore, that the Gap of Dunloe is treated sensitively, protected and carefully managed.

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