The memorial to the late Kate Forde.

Deathtrap bend to be removed after almost 100 years

A DEATHTRAP section of road is finally set to be 'obliterated' almost a century after safety issues were raised by local councillors following a fatal accident.

The blackspot at Barley Hill, on the Westport – Newport Road, will be by-passed as part of the new N5 Westport to Turlough road project.

Ninety-four years ago a young girl tragically lost her life just days before she was due to set out for a new life in America. A memorial marks the spot where Kate Ford, who was visiting family and friends ahead of her adventure, died in 1926 when she fell from her bicycle.

Kate wasn't the only person to die at the location. A young man from Keenagh in Crossmolina was fatally injured two years earlier when returning home by bike having climbed Croagh Patrick.

Their stories were brought to the attention of The Connaught Telegraph by John Kelly from Westport, who we'd like to thank for researching this article.

Over the past 96 years a lot has been written in the local newspapers concerning the condition of the N59, accidents and near-misses, and particularly about the bends at Barley Hill. Local councillors have highlighted concerns and made calls for safety measures. As recently as January 2019, the bends were raised at council level when a car almost lost control and dropped into the field below.

John delved into the archives and uncovered newspaper reports published following Kate Ford's death.

Newspaper report from the archives on council debate.

At a meeting of Mayo County Council in May 1926, Councillor Pat O'Donnell raised a notice of motion to have a dangerous bend at Barley Hill 'obliterated'.

The report noted how the dangerous turns were 'a relic of the past evil system - when the grand jurors and their henchmen were all powerful'. In those days a road was diverted at right angles 'for fear any of their sacred lands would be touched'.

The report continued that though the tyrants of the past had been submerged and obliterated, 'we have under local control no genuine desire to wipe out these tragic reminders of the days of persecution and slavery'.

Councillors supported his call as a number of valuable lives had been lost there, with a 'big crop' of accidents taking place, but it was overruled by the county surveyor.

The motion was tabled after the coroner's report into the fatality, which asked that the bend be removed and signage improved, and also following another tragic death.

The first concerned a young Crossmolina man cycling home from a pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick. Tommy Rowland, from Colnabinna, Keenagh, was cycling down the same steep hill, in July 1924, and found that he couldn’t turn in time, and crashed into a wall, losing his life.

The more recent death, subject of the inquest and council debate, was that of Kate Ford, aged 19, from Milltown in Co. Galway.

Kate lost her life on May 12, 1926, having come to Westport to visit her aunt. She borrowed a bicycle to visit friends in Kilmeena, as she was emigrating to the USA the following week. But her dreams and life ended abruptly when she lost control of the bicycle at Barley Hill.

The report in The Connaught Telegraph described how Kate had been cycling along, 'glad in the springtime of life'. After the accident nearby workmen came to her assistance, hailing a passing motor car to bring her to Westport, but prompt medical help proved to be in vain.

Today, a memorial cross stands at the bend which contributed to her untimely death.

A crash barrier was erected in later years, which obscures the memorial.

Said John about Kate's story: "As the centenary of this terrible accident approaches, the bend in the road is scheduled to be removed at last with the final phase of the N59 Newport to Westport road realignment.

"It is also a reminder of the dangers to all current road users.

"Back in 1926, there were very few cars on the road, and bicycle technology was also relatively new, but primitive, with bikes being harder to control than today's wonders of technology.

"The railway, which also passed through this area, was closed 11 years later in 1937 and was largely reclaimed by nature until the greenway was developed in 2010. The greenway has been a spectacular success and has taken thousands of children and adults off the treacherous and busy N59 road and allows them to cycle or walk in safety from Westport to Kilmeena and beyond. It is a pity that it was not around in 1926.

"The road itself has since been drastically changed from Newport to Kilmeena, and is much safer with many bad bends being removed over the past decade, and careful consideration being given to enhancing the greenway at each stage.

"As the final stretch of this road is realigned we should also reflect on other tragedies that have occurred on this road in the past 100 years."

Bend at Barleyhill.

He continued: "While Ireland, its road network, bike and car technology have changed dramatically, the hazards have not, and road safety remains an important political issue today as it was in 1926 when the hazards were less severe than today.

"Let's hope that Kate's memorial can be preserved at the current location as a reminder of her short life which ended, far too soon, and that the new road layout and popular greenway can help prevent future tragedies on this stretch of road.

"Councillor O'Donnell's call to have the barley hill bend 'obliterated' will finally come to pass, 96 years later."

When the new road is in place, it will provide an opportunity to make the memorial to Kate more visible as it is currently obscured by vegetation and the crash barrier. Being on a cul de sac will also make it a safer place to park and visit and perhaps, in time, a plaque could be erected in memory of all who have lost their lives on the road over the years.