Families united in grief for road tragedy victims
Tributes are paid to the four students killed in N17 horror crash as survivor fights for her life
By JEROME REILLY, BRIAN McDONALD and DON LAVERY
Sunday November 22 2009
Four families in desolation, another keeping vigil at the bedside of their critically ill daughter.
It is difficult to comprehend the devastation wrought on a black, rain-lashed night on the notorious N17 -- the road that links Galway and Sligo and which has claimed many lives over the years.
But last Tuesday night's unbearable loss of four young women on the cusp of life struck a particular chord. Yesterday, Sorcha Rose McLoughlin, 19, was brought from her home in Mulgannon, Co Wexford, to Clonard Church where Mass was celebrated. Then a sad cavalcade, from east to west, as Sorcha was taken to her parents' native county and the townland of Derreens in Achill. Today she will be laid to rest in the graveyard at Glencoe that stands above Achill Sound, Co Mayo.
As Sorcha was brought west, her friend Marie Stephanie Conneely, 19, was taken from her home at Derroe, Ballynahown, Co Galway, to Cill Treasa, Ros an Mhil, where a funeral mass celebrated her life.
She was laid to rest in nearby Muighrois Cemetery.
At the same time on the other side of the Corrib, Sarah Byrne, 20, was brought from her home to St Mary's Church in Headford and laid to rest in Cloughanover Cemetery.
Today, Teresa Molloy, 19, who was also studying Irish and translation studies, will be brought by her family to Seipeal Naomh Colmcill before being laid to rest in the cemetery in Leitir Moir.
Tears flowed freely yesterday as hundreds of people paid their sad farewells in Wexford and Galway. Cill Trease church in Rossaveal was packed for the funeral mass of Marie Conneely from nearby Ballinahown.
Chief mourners were parents, Noel and Noirin; and brothers, Padraig and Ciaran. Fr Sean McHugh said that the area had been shocked by the tragic deaths of the four young women.
"Our hearts go out to Noirin and Noel and to Padraig and Ciaran. They have been asked to carry a heavy cross," said Fr McHugh as Gaeilge.
There was also a huge attendance at the funeral of Sarah Byrne at St Mary's church in Headford.
Mourners were told by Fr James O'Grady that there were no answers to what had happened last Tuesday night, but there would be in the fullness of time. There had been shock and a great deal of pain since, especially for her family. Sarah is survived by parents Tom and Tina and brother Stephen.
Burial afterwards was at Cloughanover cemetery. Hundreds more said goodbye to Sorcha Rose McLoughlin in the Church of the Annunciation in Clonard, Co Wexford. Sorcha is daughter of Thomas and Rose Marie, and sister of Cian and Martin.
The chief celebrant, Fr Martin Doyle, said Sorcha had been brought home to the church where she had made her First Holy Communion, the church were she made her Confirmation. Her school in Kennedy Park was just a few hundred metres away, while she received her secondary education in Loreto Convent in the town.
"Sorcha was a naturally beautiful person," he said.
"She was a lovely person, loved by all who came across her in her short life. She was deeply loved and trusted by her neighbours and friends," said Fr Doyle.
"One sentence I have heard constantly over the past few days, ever since the tragic accident, is that Sorcha was a beautiful, loving and kind person. The west of Ireland where she met her death held a special place in Sorcha's heart and life.
"We all look to her here today and ask questions in our minds, as to why this had to happen to four beautiful young girls in the threshold of their lives. "I wish I could stand here this morning and give you an answer but I don't have one, for life on this earth sometimes bring experiences which are left unanswered."
The girls' great friend, Michelle O'Donnell, 21, from Inis Mor on the Aran Islands and who is studying the native language, is still fighting for her life in Beaumont Hospital in Dublin.
There were several twists of fate that took the lives of the four young students from NUIG. All had excellent attendance records at college but on a wet, windy, and miserable morning they couldn't find a parking space in the college campus when they arrived around noon.
Should they backtrack across Galway city in the rush hour to their home at the quayside? Sometime in those moments they decided to abandon classes for the day and take a spin to Sligo.
The plan was to do some Christmas shopping and to meet Shane Walsh, an old friend of Sarah's.
Sarah had worked in Keady's supermarket in her home town at week-ends and during holidays while Shane, who was studying at Sligo RTC, worked in the bar next door. Halfway home from college they took the left turn on the roundabout that brought them on to the N17 and out through Claregalway, Tuam, and past Milltown and on towards Ballindine, where hours later the four of them would meet their end.
By the time they left Sligo in the small blue Peugeot, it was already dark, the weather had closed in and rain driven by strong Atlantic gales lashed the west. Shane sent texts to Sarah to be careful.
The girls had just crossed the border into Co Galway when they were involved in a head-on collision with a yellow pickup truck. The girls who died; Sorcha, Marie, Teresa and Sarah were all passengers. The car was driven by their friend Michelle.
The scene of the crash at Carrinurlar is between two treacherous and deceptive bends known locally as Coyne's bend and Hernon's bend. It appears the Peugeot came around the corner where the road dips sharply.
Control was lost and the car slid sideways and ploughed into the truck travelling in the opposite direction. The two doors on passenger side took the brunt of the impact.
Three of the women were pronounced dead at the scene and the fourth was rushed to Mayo General Hospital, Castlebar, but could not be saved. Michelle, was also brought to Mayo General.
Her father, John, who is coxswain of the Aran Islands lifeboat, and mother Nora braved a sea storm to get across to the mainland to her bedside in Castlebar. She was later transferred to Beaumont Hospital.
The driver of the truck Patrick Kelly, 42, broke his ankle and is deeply shocked by what happened.
Even as the emergency services tried to free the injured from the car, the girls mobile phones were ringing. Teresa Molloy's boyfriend had heard about an accident on the radio and was desperately trying to reach her.
Less than a month ago, the five girls went over to Inis Mor to celebrate Michelle's 21st birthday.
Now Michelle's four friends are dead and she is fighting a desperate battle for her life.
Your prayers are respectfully requested for the families of these four young girls who were tragically killed in a horrific auto accident this past week and also for the driver who remains in critical condition. Two of those killed, Stephanie Conneely and Teresa Malloy, were from neighboring villages to my home in the Connemara Gaeltacht and were well known to my wife’s neices and nephews. Ar dheis De go raibh na anamacha agus Go dtuga Dia suaimhneas soiri na anamacha