Village stunned after horror crash

The black hearses moved slowly through the rain as they brought the victims of one of Ireland’s worst road accidents home.

A long line of cars followed solemnly as the first of the eight victims was returned to the village of Ballyliffin, Co Donegal, from the mortuary.

Shocked silence had greeted the news as relatives grappled with the enormity of it.

Letterkenny hospital wards outside the mortuary were hushed as stunned families asked themselves why.

From a butcher to the son of a haulage company owner, the overcrowded Volkswagen Passat was crammed with eight people aged in their teens and early 20s. There were only five seat belts.

Returning from watching Spain clinch victory in the World Cup final, there was a horrible irony to see Spanish children clad in the national flag in Buncrana as the rest of the town mourned.

Fr Eddie McGuinness summed it up: “We are human beings and I know I will shed my own tears.”

The young people were from well-respected local families.

PJ McLaughlin, aged 21 from Burnfoot, Donegal, worked with his father dismantling cars.

Driver Sean Kelly worked at his father’s haulage company.

Ciaran Sweeney helped at his father’s butcher’s in Buncrana.

And Hugh Friel, aged 66, was near home following a night playing bingo when he collided with the young people’s car, just moments after it hit another car.

Joe McConnell runs a furniture shop in Buncrana’s main street and knew many of the victims’ families.

“It is just so sad, I knew most of them, they were from good, hard-working families,” he said.

At St Mary’s Church in the town the congregation said prayers for the victims.

Local woman Helen McIntyre said: “I hope this is the end of it but I suppose God has a plan for all of us and no-one knows where or when the thief in the night has come and gone and we don’t know until we wake up.”

Another woman, Imelda Doherty, was more forthright.

“It is like a corpse house out there, it is just dead,” she said.

The area has seen several multiple deaths in road accidents including five young 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.

People from Buncrana were also caught in the 1998 Real IRA Omagh bomb just over the border, which killed 29 people.

Yet Inishowen features hauntingly beautiful mountains and seascapes and is a major tourist draw.

Today people were less interested in scenery and more in the brutal reality of another eight lives lost on the roads.

At the scene flowers had been laid remembering the dead as ashen-faced people looked on.

And the hearses made their way slowly to every grieving household.

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