Annette's legacy will be safer roads for cyclists

One year ago this week Annette Mannix (48) died in a cycling accident near Killarney's notorious Lewis Road junction. Helping to overcome her grief, her sister Suzanne has been campaigning for improved safety measures. The fight continues, writes Sinead Kelleher

Suzanne Dennehy on the Lewis Road Bypass junction. Photos by Michelle Cooper Galvin
Suzanne Dennehy on the Lewis Road Bypass junction. Photos by Michelle Cooper Galvin
A sign featuring the late Annette Mannix and backing the Petition for Road Safety
Suzanne and Anthony Dennehy pictured last year holding a photo of Annette Mannix and the petition for Road Safety with signatures. Photo by Michelle Cooper Galvin

On May 10, 2017, Suzanne Dennehy was at work at the Bon Secours Hospital in Tralee but when Garda Marcus Twomey arrived at the ward her world came crashing down around her.

"You just know something has happened."

And it had - her sister, 48-year old Annette Mannix, had died in a traffic accident on the bypass in Killarney while out cycling as she trained for the Ring of Kerry.

"My first thought was my mother. They were so close.

"Then I said I'd do my work report. I just couldn't take it in. I couldn't process it."

The days, weeks and months that have followed have been tough on the entire family - not least Annette's mother, Mary for whom Annette was a full-time carer.

"It was huge for my mother. She will never come to terms with it. She is wonderfully strong and tries to get on with it despite her loss."

For Suzanne the road has been equally hard.

"Initially I was so numb but you have to be to get everything done. There are still things that have to be done, you are just going through the process doing the things that need to done."

Now, a year later, it is harder than ever, says Suzanne.

"It's harder now as you are feeling the loss. I was doing things to cope but now I have more space to feel it."

Just weeks before the accident, Annette had decided to fulfil a long-held dream - to cycle the Ring of Kerry. She had purchased her bike, joined Killarney Cycling Club and had begun training.

That dream ended when Annette became another statistic - another cyclist killed on Kerry roads.

She was also more than that - she was another road user injured near the Lewis Road junction on the Killarney bypass - a route that had been long lauded as the most dangerous in the county.

This was to become Suzanne's way of coping - a campaign to try and get safety measures in place at the location where Annette lost her life.

"I suppose I would like to look at it as her legacy. She had just taken up cycling for the Ring of Kerry and her death was in vain so I wanted a purpose, a reason for things."

"It is such a devastating loss that you have to find some way to survive and get beyond it."

"Every time you think you have made progress something sets you back. April 28 was her birthday or other times it's a family occasion."

"It is a positive way to remember her. Every day seems long but a year is very short."

Prior to her death Annette has been campaigning for safety measures in and around St Brendan's place - just around the corner from where Annette lost her life. This area is often congested and Annette had been campaigning for safety measures to be implemented especially to ensure ambulances could access the area if her mother was to need one.

Works at the Lewis Road junction would help Annette's work and so began the campaign with a petition at Annette's funeral for works to undertaken on the Lewis Road bye-pass.

"I actually grabbed Michelle Cooper Galvin's hand at the funeral and said you have to help me sort out that junction."

"I was desperately trying to find a way to cope to find something positive. I was trying to find a positive outlet for my grief."

Thousands of signatures have been collected since then from the local community who support Suzanne and Annette's campaign and this was presented in Dublin to Minister for Transport, Shane Ross. It has led to TII calling on the council to draw up plans.

Mayor of Killarney, Cllr Niall Kelleher, arranged the deputation to Dublin and has long campaigned for works to be undertaken. He has been supported by a host of local councillors and TD's including Cllr Donal Grady, Brendan Cronin, TD John Brassil and Danny and Michael Healy-Rae.

Since Annette's accident there has been numerous collisions on the bypass - the most recent a multi-car collision just last Tuesday.

"Every time I hear something like that it brings Annette's accident back."

"You never know when you step on the road you are taking your life for granted. We never expected it, you never expect a family member never to be around."

"I'm acutely aware of leaving space when I see a cyclist, my children are too."

"There are cyclists out every day and events every weekend and there needs to be communication between cyclists and motorists. Cyclists can be careless too."

One of Suzanne's dreams would be more cycling lanes - while this may be not what the solution to the Lewis Road junction it is still a key part of her campaign.

"I'd like to see more cycle lanes developed. You can't cycle on the hard shoulder. It is too dangerous.

"We can't wait for the Government to do everything. I believe in communities working together and if we could develop cycle lanes in memory of Annette that would be great."

For Suzanne, though, first and foremost is the Lewis Junction and the potential plans, she say, don't go far enough. However, she says it is time for everyone to step up and join the campaign.

"I feel a bit unhappy. They don't go far enough, it doesn't help cyclists."

"What I really want is people to look at the plans and given their opinions. A lone voice doesn't get much done. If we work together change can come. We have to unite."

"It is for cyclists and motorists it is for the safety of all. The next accident might be parents and children. It can come to anyone's door."

Speed is a huge cause of accidents on the bypass so a speed limit reduction is key to safety - though this is part of the county speed review.

"It is 100km on the bye-pass coming off a 50k zone on either end. They are talking about 80k but ideally it should be 60k. The islands are blind too."

Locals air their views on proposals at Lewis Road

Known as one of the most dangerous junctions in the county the Lewis Road junction has been the cause of numerous accidents in recent years. The most recent accident was a multi-car collision last week.

Kerry County Council are currently drawing up safety for the proposals for the junction which will be completed and put before local councillors on May 25. They will then go out to public consultation. The plans include a proposal for vehicles to turn left though council officials have concerns about this.

The Kerryman took to the streets of Killarney this week to ask locals what works they think should be undertaken at the junction.

Margaret O'Sullivan from Kilcummin said that she would like to see cars being forced to turn left coming onto Killarney bye-pass.

"The only option is a compulsory turn left at both the Lewis Road and Kilcummin junction and to reduce the speed limit to 50km. A new road is five years or more away. How many people will be killed in that length of time? It is really and truly the worst road. I hope they do something."

Mike Breen from Beaufort said that the Lewis Road junction is very dangerous.

"They should give a left turn from Lewis road a trial and see what happens. It is dangerous. Locals know it but strangers don't. Something has to be done."

Michael Sweeney from Beaufort said that a left turn could make Cleeney roundabout worst.

"The speed limit should be reduced. They drive too fast. Traffic lights would be an idea as it would slow down traffic. The Cleeney roundabout is already dangerous."

Pam O'Brien from Coolcorcoran in Killarney said that going left at Lewis Road junction is the only option.

"I always turn left. I live in the area and I think everyone should turn left it would be safer. It is very dangerous. Cars speed up from either side of the bypass. Something has to be done."