THIS morning Hugh Friel should be planning how to spend the €65 he won playing bingo on Sunday night.
Friends said the 66-year-old was “over-the-moon” with his one-line win at Buncrana and left with a big smile on his face.
An hour later Mr Friel and seven young men aged between 19 and 23 were dead.
The smash between Mr Friel’s Toyota Corolla and the Volkswagen Passat carrying the young men and its driver, Seán Kelly, was the most horrific in the history of the state.
Instead of enjoying his winnings, this morning Mr Friel will be the first of the victims to be laid to rest by his loved ones.
Over the next two days the families of Paul Doherty, 19, Ciarán Sweeney, 19, Mark McLaughlin, 21, Eamonn McDaid, 22, Patrick PJ McLaughlin, 21, Damien McLaughlin, 21 and James McEleney, 23 will all have to carry out the same task.
Paul Doherty will be buried tomorrow on what should have been his 20th birthday.
Many mourners will spend the next 48 hours travelling from one heart-rending ceremony to the next.
Buncrana parish priest Fr John Walsh, who will preside over the funerals of friends Eamon McDaid and Damien McLaughlin, admitted the scale of the tragedy had left some of the families he had spoken to questioning God.
Fr Walsh witnessed the enormity of the grief when he went to Letterkenny Hospital on the night of the crash. “I hadn’t seen grief to that extent before, when so many people are affected,” he said.
Last night before they re-opened the road in Inishowen where the crash occurred, gardaí offered the men’s relatives the chance to travel to the scene to grieve. Seven families took up the opportunity.
Unsurprisingly given the death toll in the accident, it is not just the immediate families but whole communities who have been plunged into grief. That has lead the Health Service Executive to open a helpline for those struggling to come to terms with the tragedy while drop-in centres are to open in Buncrana and Clonmany to allow members of the public to discuss their grief.
Counselling is also being offered to the 28 members of the fire brigade and gardaí who attended the scene and witnessed the carnage.
Meanwhile, their thoughts of many are with the sole survivor Seán Kelly, driver of the Passat.
The articulated truck driver had been giving his friends a lift home from the pub where they all had been watching the World Cup final.
It has already been confirmed by gardaí that alcohol was not a factor in the accident.
Relatives of the victims have called on the community to support the Kelly family as they pray for the young man.
“Any one of these young men could have been driving the car,” said Cecil Doherty, uncle of crash victim Paul Doherty.
“We feel very, very much for the Kelly family, in particular, whose son is seriously injured. Our heart goes out to them and we hope the community rallies behind them.”
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