A horror crash in which eight men died was today called the worst on record in the Republic of Ireland.
Seven of the dead, from parishes across the Inishowen peninsula, were in a car which collided with another vehicle on a rural road before smashing into a third.
The driver of the third car was also killed. Hugh Friel, a 66-year-old unmarried man from Dunaff, Clonmany, was returning home after an evening at bingo in Buncrana.
All the men died at the scene.
The others were named as Paul Doherty, 19, from Ardagh, Ballyliffin, Ciaran Sweeney, 19, from Ballyliffin, Patrick McLaughlin, 21, of Rockstown, Tooban, Burnfoot, Mark McLaughlin, 21, from Ballynahone, Fahan, Damien McLaughlin, 21, from Umricam, near Buncrana, Eamonn McDaid, from Ballymagan, Buncrana, and James McEleney, 23, from Minaduff, Clonmany.
The driver of the car carrying eight people was named as Sean Kelly, from Urris. He was in a critical but stable condition in Letterkenny General Hospital.
Prayers were offered at a morning Mass in Buncrana for all those caught up in the tragedy.
The crash happened at about 10.40pm on Sunday on a stretch of road between Buncrana and Clonmany in the townland of Glassmullen.
Assistant Commissioner Kieran Kenny said it was the worst road accident he has dealt with in his 34 years in the force.
“This is a very, very sad and tragic and stressful time and we will do what we can to get those people through the next few days,” he said.
Traffic officers said eight young men were in the northern-registered black Volkswagen Passat saloon. It is believed to have collided with a Donegal-registered white Renault Megane hatchback before the driver lost control and ploughed into a red Toyota Corolla, also Donegal-registered, 200 metres away.
The senior garda added: “It is a short stretch, a straight stretch which comes between two bends. It would appear at this time that the two incidents were part of the same action.”
Taoiseach Brian Cowen, on a trip to New York, extended his sympathy to the families of those killed on the roads this weekend.
“I am deeply saddened to learn of these deaths and I want to extend my sincere sympathies to everyone who lost loved ones. Each death on our roads is tragic and brings untold suffering to families, friends and the entire community,” he said.
The smash happened on the R238 – 10 stretches of which are classed as collision-prone zones on official garda files.
However, Assistant Commissioner Kenny said the straight stretch of road had a good surface which was dry at the time.
Both the Passat and the Corolla ended up in a ditch while the Megane remained on the road with a damaged front wing and wheel.
Father Rafal Januszewski, who celebrated mass at St Mary’s in Buncrana, spent time comforting relatives in Letterkenny General hospital last night.
“Many, many people were there inside – there were maybe 20 people in the corridor but they were very quiet. Nobody was talking but some people were crying,” the Polish priest said.
“They were distraught. We were talking about this tragedy and offering words of comfort to help to give them peace.”
It is understood relatives of some of those who died were out of the country and others were due to return home from the Oxegen music festival in Co Kildare.
Scores of people attended the mass in Buncrana, while a small number of locals gathered at the scene of the crash, leaving flowers at the roadside.
A special helpline was set up for health service staff to offer support.
Father Eddie McGuinness, Curate at St Mary’s Cockhill, also in Buncrana, said news was just sinking in of the tragedy and he spoke of the challenges facing everybody.
“We are human beings and I know I will shed my own tears,” he said.
Buncrana town councillor Michael Grant was returning from a family get-together in Ballyliffin when he came across the accident.
“I felt shocked and horrified, I can only imagine how the families feel,” Mr Grant said.
The area has seen a number of multiple deaths in road accidents, including five young people killed in a crash involving a drink driver near Quigley’s Point in 2005 and five eastern Europeans killed in a two-car crash near Buncrana in 2006.
However, Ireland’s road safety record has dramatically improved, with the number of deaths down by 41% over the last eight years.
Gardaí appealed for anyone who was in the area or who was travelling on the Buncrana to Clonmany road between 10pm and 11pm last night to contact Buncrana Garda Station.
Politicians said towns and villages across the Inishowen region had been thrown into a state of shock by the tragedy.
Fine Gael TD Joe McHugh said close-knit communities across a wide area of the peninsula were affected by the deaths.
“Even though you are talking about different boys coming from north-west Inishowen and south-west Inishowen, there are still families connected and communities connected and it’s the worst possible nightmare for the families involved,” he said.
Mary Clinton, who founded the A-Ceart (Action Campaign for Education Against Road Tragedies) in Donegal several years ago, offered her condolences.
“There’s nothing as devastating as losing a child. Losing a child is the most horrendous thing that can happen to anybody. It does not bear thinking about,” she said.