'Devoted' wife and mother was killed while trying to save her dog
A devoted wife and mother was killed while trying to pull her pet dog from the path of an oncoming train, an inquest was told on Monday.
Bridget McHale (70), Knockshanvalley, Straide, Foxford, was hunched over her beloved 'Prince" when she was struck by the Manulla to Ballina passenger train on April I last.
"Prince" had stubbornly lain down on the tracks at the Knockshanvalley level crossing and was refusing to budge despite the entreaties and urgings of its owner.
Train driver, Jonathan Hopkins gave a detailed statement to gardai which was read into evidence Monday at the inquest in Castlebar into Mrs McHale's death conducted by the Coroner for Mayo, Patrick O'Connor.
Mr Hopkins blew his hooter when he saw the dog on the crossing.
He explained in his statement: "When I blew the hooter the dog moved away from the train onto the tracks and lay down.
"At this point the woman walked down the side of the track towards the dog.
The driver said he was blowing the hooter continuously to warn the woman and had the brakes in the emergency position.
"The woman was reaching in over the rail to try and get the dog off but then she moved onto the middle of the tracks completely and hunched over the dog.
"At this point the train was more or less on the crossing. Shortly afterwards the train struck the woman and came to a stop a short distance up the line."
Mrs McHale died immediately at the scene from extensive injuries. 'Prince' also died instantly in the impact.
James McHale, the grieving husband of the deceased, did not attend today's hearing.
But, in a statement to gardai which was read to the inquest, he sadly recalled that on the night before the tragedy they had been social dancing in Swinford and enjoyed "a great night".
The morning of the accident she had been "in great spirits" and had read the papers together and worked on a crossword before she took "Prince" for a walk at 10.30am.
Bridget would walk Prince every day at least twice daily and and always on the same route, Mr McHale added.
There were 18 passengers on the train when the accident occurred. None witnessed the impact and none were injured.
After an inquest jury had returned a verdict of accidental death, the Coroner, Mr O'Connor sympathised with the McHale family on their 'heartbreaking" loss.
It was a sad case of a woman giving up her life for her dog, he commented.
He said the reaction of Mrs McHale in trying to save her dog was the normal reaction of a kind person when a beloved pet was in danger.
The circumstances of the death, were extremely sad for James McHale, who had been married to Bridget for 51 years, and his family.
The coroner also expressed his sympathy to the train driver, Jonathan Hopkins, and other Irish Rail personnel on duty
Inspector Gary Walsh, on behalf of An Garda Siochana, Aidan Hope, foreman of the inquest jury, and Ward McEllin, solicitor, representing Irish Rail, joined in the expressions of sympathy.