The ceremony was organised by campaign group Public Against Road Carnage (PARC), in Buncrana, Co Donegal, to coincide with the United Nations’ Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims which was marked by events in many countries.
The group’s founder, Susan Gray, whose husband Stephen died after being struck by a car on St Stephen’s night in 2004, read prayers in the open air under pelting rain after a special remembrance Mass at St Mary’s Oratory in the town before releasing the balloons with the help of her son, Stephen Jnr, 13, daughter, Laura, 15, and crowds of local people.
Many of the balloons carried the names of loved ones killed in road accidents and messages written by their grieving families. Ms Gray said she was amazed by how many people wanted to be part of the event.
“People were coming up to me asking if I had a balloon for them and could they have a marker and ringing me beforehand asking should they bring their own balloon.
“Even from outside Donegal, I was getting calls from people who couldn’t come to the service asking would I write a name for them. I even got texts on my phone with messages people wanted written.
“I think people were just crying out to do something. I know how they feel. It’s very hard now hearing the Christmas ads with Stephen’s anniversary coming up — you just want to hide until January — but he was so important to us, you had to do something.”
PARC, which also stands for Promoting Awareness, Responsibility and Care on our roads, has asked the Government to help make the remembrance ceremony an annual nationwide event. “We don’t have any money — that’s why it had to be something as simple as balloons — but hopefully next year with the Government’s help, we’ll be able to do something a bit bigger.”
A total of 287 people have died on Irish roads so far this year — one every 27 hours — and while the figure is lower than this time last year, past experience shows another 30 lives are likely to be lost before the year ends.
The Road Safety Authority, which praised the campaign group’s efforts, has begun distributing high visibility arm bands free to the public through a variety of outlets and promotions. About 400,000 of the reflective bands are to be given out in the hope pedestrians and cyclists will use them to enhance their own visibility during the dark evenings and nights of winter.
Of those killed on the roads to date this year, 70 were pedestrians, 13 were pedal cyclists and 15 were on motorbikes.
Meanwhile, a man died yesterday following a crash in Kilkenny. The 18-year-old was a passenger in a car that hit a ditch on the N76 at Shellumsrath, Kilkenny, on Saturday. Gardaí from Kilkenny Garda Station are investigating.
Meanwhile, a man died in a two-car collision on the Keady Road outside Armagh.
In Dublin, gardaí are appealing for witnesses to a collision in which a pedestrian was seriously injured.
The woman was struck by a car which was travelling towards Baldoyle on Saturday night. The incident happened between the junctions of Millbrook Drive and Raheny Road, Coolock.
Anyone who was in the area or who witnessed the incident is asked to contact Coolock gardaí on 01-6664200.