*Donie Garrihy and Pat Sweeney. 

DOOLIN residents are “living in a death-trap” with locals beginning to make their voices heard when it comes to demanding better road infrastructure and safety.

Last summer, the death of Jerry O’Connor in Ballyvaughan prompted his wife Helga Himmelsbach to launch a campaign seeking better road conditions in North Clare. Now in nearby Doolin as the tourist season prepares to intensify and the dawning of a fresh term for newly elected councillors in North Clare has prompted locals to ensure further tragedies are avoided.

The Clare Echo spoke with two community leaders in Doolin and accompanied them on a tour around the village where this writer drove the black-spots and junctions, the through road from Doolin to Liscannor among those with next to know visibility for motorists emerging from the junction.

Chairperson of Doolin IFA, Pat Sweeney highlighted that farmers face constant difficulties when travelling with machinery due to the nature of the tight roads and the frequency of oncoming buses while pointing out that the road structure has not been improved in the last twenty five years. He outlined that near-misses are a constant for farmers in Doolin when they are drawing silage. “We were drawing silage on Wednesday night and there was another near miss, it happens every night when we’re drawing silage or moving cattle.

“We have the Cliffs of Moher over the road, it is a great employer, I understand all that but the road structure is not there for the Cliffs of Moher Centre, the new centre was put in in 2008 and I’m astonished that in 2008 when they spent €33m on it that it wasn’t part of a planning stipulation that the road structure be improved, the road structure there today is still the same as it was in 2008. They are now on about this Cliffs of Moher 2040 strategy to develop the centre again and there is not one mention of the main roads leading to it, over 100 buses pass my road every day, even to walk or cycle is gone completely, we got our roads back during COVID and it is gone again,” Pat added.

Having witnessed serious accidents including recently where a bus almost toppled over, Pat is frightened at what could happen next. “We have serious safety concerns with the buses, it is only next door to me in the field and a Spanish girl was hit by a bus. The bus driver came down to me and wanted to know had we flash lights, he thought he hit something so myself and my son Alan went up and we found the girl in the field, that was in the month of November, he didn’t know what he hit. Over the road from me, there was a person killed, a GPS sent this person up from Doolin, they came straight out on the road, a motorcyclist came and killed your man inside in the car, two helicopters landed and I don’t know how many people were brought to hospital. We’re living in a death-trap here”.

Both avenues leading up to Sweeney’s house “have been taken out in the last ten years by accidents, not alone that, about fifty metres over from the main road into my house, a campervan went straight into the field so I went to Clare County Council to see could they upgrade or repair the wall because the campervan went straight through it, I repaired the wall myself because I got sick of it. My two roads have been taken out with different accidents, I was below home one day and I could see this car overtaking another and next thing he lost control and somersaulted over the wall on the other side and landed inside my field, I opened the gate and went to pull him out”.

Visitor numbers for the Cliffs of Moher are welcome for the boost they bring to the area but it must result in an improved road structure, Pat insisted. “We got the roads back during COVID and that is when we realised how our lives had changed, you could see the local people out walking and cycling, I could see local families out on the road with their three kids coming behind them on the road with bicycles, we can’t see that anymore. 2019 was the busiest year at the Cliffs of Moher Visitor Centre, they recorded 1.6m visitors, the numbers aren’t back there yet but they are climbing. We’ll be going back to those numbers again with the same structure, I could not believe how they got away with planning for the new visitor centre in 2008 and it wasn’t stipulated that the road structure had to be upgraded whether it be in Liscannor or Doolin”.

Sweeney continued, “There are roads resurfaced left, right and centre of us here, a great job has been done on them roads, this is the R478 and surely to God the R478 the turn must come around some time for it to be done, they did the street in Lisdoonvarna a couple of years ago and they’ve done it again, how does it make us feel when they aren’t getting half the traffic that we get from Garrihy’s Shop to the Cliffs, every bus that comes out of the centre comes past my road. A motorbike came a half hour ago, did you see the speed he went at”.

Owner of Garrihy’s Aran View Service Station, Donie Garrihy was at boiling point when it came to his frustration on the infrastructure in Doolin. “I was in the fish game for twenty one years, the worst road in Ireland is from Doolin to Kinvara, it was Doolin to Kilcoglan but they improved from Kinvara to Kilcolgan, I used to be gone at 4am and it was horrendous, I should have got a gold medal every time I completed the journey. Then I used to go to Skibberean, leave at 2:30am and arrive for 5:30am, the worst part of the road was from Doolin to Ennis, from Ennis all the way down to Cork was perfect, hello. Fast forward another twenty years, I was in the ferries, the only part of the ferries I knew was the ferries and the concrete pier, I knew nothing else only football and GAA, I lost contact with my locals and as Gerry Howard from Fanore says ‘not everybody gets a second chance Donie’, I appreciate the comment because I get to engage with my locals again. I’m 59 on November 7th, I’m a Scorpio, thank God I wasn’t born in 66 when England won the World Cup or I’d have to change my name, I was thinking, I left school, fish, ferries and the roads are still the same, it is unbelievable”.

Donie recalled that he brought a representative of the Council to Doolin last Autumn to showcase the issues they face but no improvement has been observed in what has been almost a year. “We still have the worst roads in Ireland from here to Ennis and from here to Kinvara, if you go through Cooraclare it is like Beirut, go through Cooraclare and remember my comment. Sitting councillors, Joe Garrihy, Joe Killeen, Bill Slattery and Shane Talty can they wave a magic wand? I don’t know if they can or not, where is the stumbling block, is it in Dublin or Europe that they can’t get the money for this, why is the road from the Cliffs of Moher to Liscannor to Lahinch to Miltown Malbay to Ennistymon far superior than the road from the Cliffs of Moher to Lisdoonvarna, why is that, I’ve been a nobody all my life talking about this and it is awful, coming up to the elections they say I did this and I did that but the biggest comment inside in the shop is that the roads are a disgrace and I’ve been radicalised, the roads are a disgrace. If you want to go see the new tourist attraction in Doolin, it is a cave from Mike O’Callaghan’s down to Tom Shannon’s, you’re driving on the Lisdoonvarna to Doolin Road and you nearly have to take sea sickness tablets, you’re driving along and you go down, it is unbelievable”.

Both men said they had no confidence in the local authority to bring about necessary road improvements. “I’ve no confidence, I’ve none, we’ve no confidence in them. Will they hit me with rate charges and denying planning permissions for my sons well God love them, I’ll live where they will die, it is awful,” Donie remarked. He added, “I have no confidence in the powers that be in this county, power my hole”.

Garrihy continued, “They can go about building another white elephant in Ennis while they soak the money out of the Cliffs of Moher and run off with a big bag of money, fair play to them but distribute it. This country in my opinion is not suitable for extreme weather conditions, when there is a storm we have a power cut, when there’s frost there is no salt and when there’s too much heat everything melts and the tar comes off the road, when there’s snow the farmers have to clear it”.

Elected representatives in Clare could learn from the Healy-Raes, Donie maintained. “Go down to Healy Rae country and come back to me then you’ll say ‘Donie you’re dead right’, beautiful roads, landscape because they take pride in their area and look after their communities. Go up to Donegal where there isn’t a quarter as much tourism but they have beautiful roads, we have the busiest place in Ireland but the worst roads are there”.

There has been fatalities on the roads of North Clare, plenty of crashes and further near-misses but no action has been taken to the warning signs, Pat flagged, “There is going to be another fatality, it is only a matter of time”. He continued, “We’re two ordinary community people, we shouldn’t have to be speaking out on this, it should be done and we shouldn’t be wasting our time but we are so passionate about it now that we’re at the end of our tether, we’re dealing with this day in day out and all the near misses, it is a nightmare, we had a near miss doing silage last night”.

“Everytime we go doing silage there are near misses. There is no way in the world that traffic can pass out, the local drivers know where to pull in but the foreign drivers don’t. Outside my house is a passing out point, when I got planning permission to remodel my house, part of it was that I had to pull the front wall in as part of the stipulation and surface it, that was part of my planning application, I went and did that I abided by the rules but now it is a passing out point for the Cliffs of Moher,” he added.

Having waited until after the local election before making their voices heard, the people of Doolin will be paying close attention to see if the sought-after improvements materialise.

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Subscribe for just €3 per month

If you’re here, you care about County Clare. So do we. Did you rely on us for Covid-19 updates, follow our election coverage, or visit The Clare Echo every week for breaking news and sport? The Clare Echo invests in local journalism and we want to safeguard its future in our county. By becoming a subscriber you are supporting what we do, will receive access to all our premium articles and a better experience, while helping us improve our offering to you. Subscribe to clareecho.ie and get the first six months for just €3 a month (less than 75c per week), and thereafter €8 per month. Cancel anytime, limited time offer. T&Cs Apply. www.clareecho.ie.

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