Fr Martin Delaney was at the scene as emergency services battled to free the three victims and survivor, all parishioners of his in Rathdowney.
He spoke of the devastating effect of the deaths, not only on the families, but the entire close-knit community. The single car accident took place just before 3.30am on Sunday.
Yesterday, on the RTE 1 radio show Today with Sean O’Rourke, he praised the professionalism of the local emergency services and the community’s response.
“Their lives are turned upside down and will never be the same again,” he said of the families of the friends who died — Martin Brophy, 20, along with mother of one Angela Kelly, 35, and Orla Curry, 20, who lived in Rathdowney.
They were returning from a 21st birthday party when the car struck a sign on an open stretch of road at Middlemount between Rathdowney and Abbeyleix.
“The three people who died had died instantly, which is some consolation to their families,” he said. “I was just conscious that the fire brigade were local lads from Rathdowney.
“They were all very professional about what they were doing but the emotion of knowing they all would have known at least one of the young people they were trying to free from the car was very difficult.
“Behind each of those names there is a story and there is a family.”
Fr Delaney said that he knew Mr Brophy very well following the death of the young man’s mother on St Stephen’s Day in 2013.
“Angela worked with her sister in a supermarket in Portlaoise and I would have met them there — I know Angela’s dad, Paul, and her only daughter Shannon, who is 16. Orla was an only child.”
A 16-year-old nephew of Ms Kelly is recovering in Tullamore General Hospital. He had sent a text alerting friends to the crash while still in the vehicle, before managing to get out of the car and seek help.
Extending his and the parish’s sympathies to the families of the deceased, Fr Delaney said: “We can’t protect them from the pain but we can offer support and that’s what we’re doing.
“Everyone will rally around and I suppose that’s the positive side. Words are woefully inadequate at a time like this, but rural Irish communities rally around. They do what they can.”
Meanwhile, a road safety officer said July was proving to be the deadliest month on Irish roads.
More than 117 people have been killed on roads across Ireland so far in 2015, said Noel Gibbons, who works with Mayo County Council. Almost 25% of the deaths last year occurred during July and August, with July having the highest number of deaths for the whole year. In the last five years, 256 people have died in June, July and August.
Mr Gibbons said: “Motorists should take extra care and must adapt their driving style according to the road and weather conditions, and commonsense needs to prevail — slow down, stay alert, calm, and stay in control.”
He said rural roads with lighter traffic can easily lull drivers into a false sense of security. “This over-relaxed comfort level can lead to motorists driving at unsafe speeds, distracted, fatigued, unbelted or impaired — all of which increase the likelihood of a crash.”