By Paddy Clancy and Ed Carty
A rural community has been plunged into mourning after three women died in a horror three-vehicle road traffic smash as they travelled home from a holiday.
Margaret McGonigle, her daughter Mairead Mundy, and a friend, Racheal Cassidy Battles, died in the incident, while a six-year-old girl and a 31-year-old man were seriously injured.
It emerged last night that one of the fatal victims of the tragedy, which occurred on the N2 near Ardee on the Louth/Monaghan border at around 12.30am yesterday, was returning from a first wedding anniversary celebration of her marriage with her husband.
Mairead Mundy, 37, married Padraic Mundy in July last year following the tragic death in 2009 of her first husband Declan O’Neill. She, along with her mother, Margaret McGonigle, 69, and neighbour, 39-year-old Racheal Cassidy Battles, was living in the tiny village of Bruckless in Co Donegal. All were on their way home from a holiday in Turkey.
Mairead’s 13-year-old son Caoimhin O’Neill, due to start secondary school this year, has now tragically lost his mother, father, and a grandmother.
A close friend of the family said the deceased women were in one car with a young daughter of Racheal Battles. It is understood Mairead was the driver. Her husband, Padraic, and Racheal Battle’s husband were in the second car, along with Caoimhin. The group had touched down in Dublin Airport not long before.
A six-year-old girl, one of Ms Battles’ four children, was seriously injured in the crash and taken to Temple Street Children’s Hospital in Dublin. It is understood the husbands of the two younger women were also in the vehicles with a number of children. One of the husbands remained seriously ill in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda and other children were taken to hospital for precautionary checks.
Bruckless, a tiny village about 6km from Killybegs, was grief-stricken last night. Bruckless Parish priest Fr James Sweeney said: “It’s one of the worst tragedies I have experienced in my 32 years working in the priesthood. For any parish in a city or a rural area to have three tragic deaths is shocking. It affects me. It affects all of us. We’ve lost three lovely people out of the community. It’s very sad for us all.
“I knew the three women well. It’s a particular sadness for me because I did know them all. There are children left behind which is always particularly sad. When children are left behind, it’s always something that touches the human heart.”
Fr Sweeney said what was particularly saddening for the community was that it was multiple deaths of people in summer-time returning from holidays.
“There is a particular tragedy to that because life is to be lived and here it has been taken away, unexplainedly, almost.”
He noted that Mairead Mundy lost her first husband in very sad circumstances and only remarried a year ago. He said: “That family has had a lot of difficulty and sadness and this is a double fatal blow that’s been struck on the family.”
Bruckless Community Centre Committee chairman John Boyle, who knew all the victims of the tragedy, said: “It’s terrible news for the village.”
The last serious tragedy in the area was 36 years ago when locals Francis Byrne and his son Jimmy lost their lives with three other fishermen when the Skifjord trawler sunk while sheltering from a storm.
Mr Boyle said it was nine months since the last funeral service in Bruckless. The first since then, a man in his 90s, was being buried later yesterday.
A special recital of the rosary was held last night for the crash victims in their local church in Bruckless.
Condolences were also extended yesterday morning to Donegal Court administrator Geoffrey McGonigle, who lost a mother and sister in the crash. Judge Kevin Kilrane said he was shocked to hear of the tragedy.
Gardaí are investigating the circumstances of the crash. Supt Feargus Treanor was at the scene within about half an hour of the crash and said: “It was a tough scene.”
Three cars, believed to have been a Vauxhall, a Toyota and a Volkswagen, were involved in the crash near Aclint Bridge on a relatively wide stretch of road where the speed limit is 100km/h.
The cause of the accident is not known but it is understood initial investigations are examining whether the driver of one of the cars swerved to avoid another, which a third car collided with.
This article first appeared in today's Irish Examiner.