A STARK warning has been issued for visitors to the Slieve Blooms and other amenity areas in Laois, after a coast guard helicopter had to rush to an emergency at the weekend.
The helicopter was urgently called after a walker fell near Glenbarrow Waterfall on Saturday, when an ambulance crew found their access blocked by visitors’ cars.
Gardaí shut down car parks and traffic routes to the Slieve Blooms indefinitely the following day, as a result of the serious incident. The routes will remain closed until further notice, while people visiting on foot during the Covid-19 outbreak are being warned to take extra precautions at popular amenity sites throughout the county.
The alarm was raised during late afternoon on Saturday, when a person fell and suffered injuries while walking along the Glenbarrow Loop, which was packed with visitors.
Vehicles from the national ambulance service and the South Eastern Mountain Rescue Association (SEMRA) attended the scene, but their access was blocked due to a large number of parked cars.
The coast guard service had to be alerted and a helicopter from Waterford-based ‘Rescue 117’ responded quickly. Paramedics assessed and treated the accident victim at the scene before using a stretcher to carry them to a waiting ambulance.
According to SEMRA, the casualty was lifted on a stretcher by gardaí, ambulance crew members, SEMRA personnel and other walkers and was then brought safely to hospital by ambulance. The casualty is expected to make a full recovery.
Following the emergency, a SEMRA spokesperson and gardaí warned people to park sensibly in all areas and ensure that access routes are open for emergency vehicles. During the incident, cars were parked in front of forestry barriers, overtaking bays and in front of residents’ gates.
Popular amenity areas all over Laois were thronged with visitors at the weekend, as people tried to escape Covid-19 confinement by getting out in the fresh air. Residents around Glenbarrow said there was a huge increase in traffic and there were serious problems as a result. Before the garda-enforced closures on Sunday, one resident commented: “The traffic is unreal and all the car parks are overflowing. The roads aren’t in great condition to begin with and this additional traffic will cause more damage. The mobile network is struggling under the pressure and my daughter is struggling to do her online homework all week. If I take my children out for a walk, we end up spending most of it jumping in and out of ditches. We’re meeting people in places we’d never normally see a soul.”
Laois-Offaly gardaí are warning people to avoid popular parkland sites and walking spots during the Covid-19 outbreak, due to concern over social distancing breaches. Glenbarrow Waterfall and other beauty spots have been closed off by gardaí and Laois County Council, with traffic diversions in operation.
People are advised to walk in their home areas instead and to keep a distance of at least two metres from other pedestrians. The county council has asked people to avoid public amenities and public walkways in large numbers, stressing that it is vital for everyone to adhere strictly to social distancing guidelines.
A Laois-Offaly garda spokesperson said: “People need to think about what they are doing.
We are urging people to avoid coming to the Slieve Bloom Mountains and all our other beautiful parks and amenities in Laois for exercise and social gatherings. Large volumes of traffic are creating serious traffic congestion on small rural roads.
“We are going through an exceptional event and we are seeing far too many people parking closely, alighting from cars and chatting without any thought of the health advice given. We would love to see you all again in Laois when we get through the current situation but, for now, please stay away.”
Gardaí say they are offering community support to older and vulnerable people throughout Laois, along with other statutory and voluntary groups. The spokesperson said: “However, all of this work has to be parked up to manage traffic, close car parks and ensure people leave locations safely.”
Meanwhile, staff at Emo Court and parklands are urging visitors to respect and adhere to social distancing measures, walking in single file if necessary. A spokesperson for the hugely popular site said: “These are extraordinary times and appropriate actions now will be of great long-term benefit. Do not congregate in large groups and stay safe. We understand people feeling the need to enjoy outdoors at this time, but stay safe and respect these new requirements at Emo Court.”