Grieving Donegal families plan eight funerals after crash

Devastated communities were beginning the harrowing task today of arranging eight funerals of loved ones killed in the country's worst ever road accident.

The funerals of two of the eight victims - PJ and Mark McLaughlin - are expected to take place in St Mary’s in Fahan tomorrow.

Seven friends who had been watching Spain’s historic World Cup win died instantly along with another man in a crash on the Inishowen peninsula.

Some of the friends, who were aged between 19 and 23, left their cars behind to take a lift after socialising in the village of Clonmany minutes before the collision.

Eight people were packed into a Volkswagen Passat which clipped a Renault Megane on the country road to Buncrana before crashing head-on into a Toyota Corolla 200 yards away.

Traffic corps officers believe the black northern-registered Passat collided with the front wing and wheel of the Donegal-registered white Megane before the driver lost control and smashed into the red Corolla, which was also Donegal-registered.

The accident happened on the R238 – 10 stretches of which are classed as collision-prone zones on official garda files.

Locals described the road as notorious, with severe S-bends but gardaí said the accident happened on a short, straight stretch between two bends. The road was dry at the time and the surface was described as good.

Both the passat and Corolla ended up in a ditch and alcohol was not a factor in the crash, gardaí said.

The driver of the third car, who was alone, was also killed – 66-year-old Hugh Friel, an unmarried man from Dunaff, Clonmany, was returning home after an evening at bingo in Buncrana.

The others were named as Paul Doherty, 19, from Ardagh, Ballyliffin; Ciaran Sweeney, 19, also from Ballyliffin; Patrick “PJ” McLaughlin, 21, from Rockstown, Tooban, Burnfoot; Mark McLaughlin, 21, from Ballynahone, Fahan; and his cousin Damien McLaughlin, 21, from Umricam, near Buncrana; Eamonn McDaid, from Ballymagan, Buncrana; and James McEleney, 23, from Minaduff, Clonmany.

All the men died at the scene.

Fire service crews, paramedics and gardaí were said to have been in shock after seeing the scale of death on the rural road.

The driver of the car carrying eight people was named as Sean Kelly from the Urris area. He was in a critical but stable condition in Letterkenny General Hospital.

It is believed he was driving some of the friends home to the Buncrana and Fahan areas while two others in the car were intending to continue socialising at the Liberties nightclub in Buncrana.

The crash happened at about 10.40pm on a stretch of road between Buncrana and Clonmany in the townland of Glassmullen, about 1.25 miles from the North Pole pub.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen, on a trip to New York, extended his sympathy to the families of those killed on the roads over the weekend.

Prayers were offered for all those caught up in the tragedy at Mass across the county as families arranged the removal of their loved ones to family homes in Inishowen.

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.

The area has seen a number of multiple deaths in road accidents, including five young local people killed in a crash involving a drunk driver near Quigley’s Point in 2005 and five eastern Europeans killed in a two-car crash near Buncrana in 2006.

Ireland’s road safety record has dramatically improved, with the number of deaths down by 41% over the last eight years.

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