Prayers were offered today after eight men were killed in one of the worst road accidents in the history of the state.
Seven of the dead, from three parishes across Inishowen, were in a car which collided with another vehicle on a notorious stretch of road before ploughing into a third.
The driver of the third car, a man in his 60s returning home after an evening at bingo, was also killed.
The crash happened at about 10.40pm on a winding stretch of road between Buncrana and Clonmany known locally as the Mintiagh bends in the townland of Glassmullen. It happened near the North Pole pub.
A resident from Buncrana has said that the town "is like a corpse house" after news of the crash came in.
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.”
People who came across the accident said the road was slippery but conditions were nothing out of the ordinary.
Gardaí said eight young men, all in their late teens or early 20s, were in a black Volkswagen Passat. Seven, all passengers, died, while the driver was said to be in a stable condition after suffering serious injuries.
It is believed the Passat clipped a silver Renault but continued on down the road for a couple of hundred yards before crashing into the red Toyota Corolla driven by the man in his 60s. He was not married and had lived in the Dunaff area, near the scene of the crash, all his life.
The dead were all from the Inishowen area.
Garda liaison officers were expected to spend several hours contacting the victims’ families, some of whom were out of the country on holiday.
The road remained cordoned off to allow for further technical examinations.
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.
Scores of people attended a Mass in Buncrana in memory of those killed and injured, while a small number of locals gathered at the scene of the crash, leaving flowers at the roadside.
Passers-by said one of the victims worked in the local butcher’s in Buncrana.
Imelda Doherty said: “He was a lovely boy, he really was.”
“The whole town is devastated. It is like a corpse house out there – it is just dead. Everybody is talking and crying.”
Buncrana town councillor Michael Grant was returning from a family get-together in Ballyliffin when he came across the accident.
“When I came up to that I saw a few cars stopped and blue lights flashing. My wife is a nurse but at that stage the ambulance and the guards were there,” Mr Grant said.
“I felt shocked and horrified, I can only imagine how the families feel this morning.
“I went to school with a couple of the fathers of the victims.”
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.
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.
Local 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.
“It’s an absolute nightmare.”
Fine Gael councillor John Ryan, who knew most of the families affected by the tragedy, said his thoughts were with grieving relatives and friends.
“Inishowen has had its fair degree of tragedies over the years but I don’t think I’ve ever come across anything of this magnitude or this level of carnage. It’s unbelievable,” 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.