*Helga Himmelsbach leads a remembrance walk for her beloved late husband Jerry O’Connor. Photograph: John Mangan
A NORTH CLARE widow has pledged to pay for speed ramps herself if improvements to the area’s road network are not introduced.
Over 100 people attended a recent remembrance walk following the death of Jerry O’Connor.
His wife, Helga Himmelsbach led the walk, she rode on horseback while hi-visibility jackets sporting the message ‘Remember Jerry, stop the carnage’ were worn by participants as they walked from the Burren College of Art to St John the Baptist Church in Ballyvaughan, a distance of over two kilometres. They were led by Jerry’s widow, Helga Himmelsbach who rode on horseback while hi-visibility jackets sporting the message ‘Remember Jerry, stop the carnage’ were worn by participants.
On their way, walkers passed the spot where Jerry was killed while travelling on his motorbike on Thursday July 27th. He was pronounced dead at the scene. The driver of the other vehicle, a French tourist Olivier Le Bozec has appeared before Ennis District Court charged with dangerous driving, Judge Alec Gabbett has remanded Mr Le Bozec on bail and adjourned the case to the middle of November.
Speaking in Ballyvaughan, Helga told the gathering, “Four other people have already been hit and have had life-changing injuries at the spot where Jerry got killed on a normal Thursday morning going about his business. It could have been me, you, your husband, your wife, your child or your friend”.
“For me here today it is an amazing feeling to be here with you, being able to share and feel your support for a pain that could have been avoided and that nobody under those circumstances should be going through but it has happened and so far nothing has been done so that it will not happen again this very evening”.
Rounds of applause were heard to calls for the addition of speed ramps in Ballyvaughan and also a call from Helga to take control of the speed signs in North Clare. “With a friend of mine, we put up two ‘go slow’ signs, we can all do that in our communities, just cross out the crazy speed limits that are put out here, paint over the speed limit and put in adequate limits, make your own signs, do it immediately, it will be very effective”.
Lisdoonvarna based Cllr Joe Garrihy (FG) said the community support was palpable. “It was a month ago but it seems only like yesterday, there is a lot of work going on, Helga actually lit a fire to put more urgency on it.. There are quick things that should and need to be done. What I can do is give my solid promise that I will do everything in my power to make improvements”.
Senator Roisin Garvey (GP) believed matters were made more difficult “because of the fact that we have made the cars the centre of everything instead of the people”. She said greater powers will be issued to local authorities to have their say on the speed limit on national routes. “It shouldn’t take people like Jerry to have to die or for Helga to campaign, it is amazing what you are doing, this is what we need to show people are sick of the car and truck ruining our lives and taking loved ones away from us”.
Inagh native Garvey also criticised Clare County Council at the gathering, “It would be really important to know that there is supposed to be an Active Travel team in Clare County Council, they have all the money in the world to do the stuff they want like raised pedestrian crossing, people should start asking questions of Pat Dowling the CEO”. When asked by Helga why she did not bring these officials, Garvey remarked, “They are civil servants, they don’t come here on Sundays”.
Cllr Garrihy was disappointed with Garvey’s Active Travel comments, “There are a large number of schemes designed for towns and villages around North Clare under the Active Travel scheme by the County Council engineers, they are waiting for funding from national level to be implemented,” he clarified.
“If I need to pay for those speed bumps myself I will do it in the morning. Can I give you the money and we get going tomorrow morning,” Helga responded, “the process is too slow and too many lives are impacted by this”.
Corofin’s Cllr Joe Killeen (FF) stated, “The strength of North Clare is its tourism potential and the weakest area of North Clare is our tourism potential as well. The difficulty is trying to marry the density of tourists and safety on the roads”. His view that the throughfares of the Burren will need to be widened did not go down well.
Efforts to reduce the speed limit in Ballyvaughan have been ongoing since 2007, stated Senator Martin Conway (FG). “There was pushback from the NRA at the time and from the Gardaí, we need not just people but the Gardaí to buy into this and support the introduction of a speed limit. What is happening today is fantastic in the sense that for once people are coming together and looking for change, the committee set up under the stewardship of Tom Barrett and others will come forward with proposals, I’ve no doubt that my political colleagues across the board will row in behind the proposals”.
He felt driver behaviour was also leading to more accidents. “I can speak with some authority in North Clare because I live here, as we all do, coming in from Lahinch with my wife this morning to Ennistymon, it was quite horrific, three cyclists were cycling between Ennistymon and Lahinch, a driver behind them couldn’t wait to get a clear patch to pass and took his life and everyone else’s in his hands by passing when he shouldn’t have passed, driver behaviour will have to change in this country, people are breaking the speed limit every minute of every hour of every day, this is going to have to be not just a safety change in terms of what happens of the speed limits but also a conversation on driver habits and driver behaviour, it is something that has to be faced up to… People are losing their lives all the time that shouldn’t be and that is down to driver behaviour as much as anything else”.