Saturday 17 March 2018

Grieving husband calls for barriers on Skellig

Anne Lucey

THE husband of a 57-year-old American woman who died on Skellig Michael last year has called for the erection of safety barriers on the steep steps on the island.

Christine Spooner died on Skellig Michael on September 20, 2009 and her husband Richard Spooner, a lawyer, was with his wife when she tripped and fell last year.

He has written to the safety consultants who carried out a recent review, accepted by the Office of Public Works (OPW), to say they incorrectly identified the location from which his wife fell. "She did not fall from a ledge. Instead, we were climbing stairs, and she tripped and fell from stairs. We had begun our ascent, and she fell near the end of the second rise of stairs.

"More descriptively, the first rise is a short rise to the left as one faces the mountain. At its top, there is a small landing from which the second rise of stairs begins. She never reached the top of this second rise of stairs," he told the consultants.

"As I stated in my statement to the Coroner's Inquest, a barrier to prevent falls on the lower levels of the trail do not seem in any way a hindrance to the historic features of Skellig, since the monastery is far above and removed from these lower regions," he has written.

The review by consultants Byrne O'Cleirigh advises against the erection of a barrier, but calls for a number of measures, principally that the island's 10,000 or so annual visitors be made fully aware of the challenges and "hazards" facing them in a visit to the island 12km off the Kerry coast.

The OPW has carried out re-alignment of some steps and has erected a chain railing along one of the treacherous ledges. However, the report found there were "several" dangerous locations which could lead to a fatal fall.


Two people, including Ms Spooner, both of them US citizens, died on the Skellig rock last year.

Witnesses at her inquest told of seeing Ms Spooner fall about 30ft. She died from serious head injuries before a helicopter could transfer her to hospital.

Kerry Coroner Terence Casey, had previously called for warning signs to be erected on Skellig, at the inquest into the death of 77-year-old Joseph Gaughan from Pennsylvania, who died at the same spot the previous May after he too fell. At Ms Spooner's inquest last February, Mr Casey said signs had been put up but they had not solved the problem.

The coroner said it was now essential for the OPW to erect some type of barrier to prevent further deaths.

Irish Independent

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