THE four childhood friends killed in a car crash last night were travelling to pick up a laptop in one of their houses before they intended to spend the night in Carlow.
The four friends – three aged 19 and a 20-year-old – died when their car collided with a van near Athy, Co Kildare last night.
The group were travelled from Kildare to Carlow town when the collision occurred.
Three other people, including a 20-year-old woman who was driving the Volkswagen Polo car the girls were travelling in and two men who were in the van, all remain in hospital today.
The four victims were named locally today as Ashling Middleton (19) from Coneyboro, Athy, Co Kildare, Chermaine Carroll (20) of Pollerton, Carlow, Niamh Doyle (19) from Mount Leinster Park, Carlow and Gemma Nolan (19) from Tullow Road in Carlow.
Aisling was studying Arts in NUI Maynooth, Chermaine was a former student of Carlow Institute of Further Education and was working in the Woodford Dolmen Hotel, Carlow, and Gemma was a second year social studies student in St Patrick’s College in Carlow.
The driver of the students’ car has been named as Dayna Kearney (20) from Crosneen in Carlow town.
The collision occurred shortly before 10pm last night at Birdstown, Co Kildare – three miles from the M9.
All the young women, who have known each other since childhood, had been in Kilkenny and were driving towards Athy to pick up Ashling Middleton’s laptop from her home. They had then intended to stay in Carlow overnight.
Parents of Gemma Nolan, Josephine and Jim, told of their heartbreak this morning.
“Gemma was just a wonderful daughter, she was adorable,” her mother Josephine said from her home in Idrone Park in Carlow.
“She was best friends with the other girls all her life, and they went to St Leo’s College in the town together.
“They had been in Kilkenny but had wanted to stop over in Athy to pick up Aisling’s laptop.
“We got a phone call from one of the other mothers to say they were all coming to Carlow, but then they hadn’t shown up, and later she rang back to say she heard there had been an accident with five girls, and she as afraid it was them,” Josephine said.
Gemma’s heartbroken father Jim said he was very proud of his daughter.
“She was in second year in St Patrick’s College in Carlow and had just done her work experience in Saplings school for autism in the town,” he explained.
“She was studying social studies,” he added.
“Our son identified Gemma in the morgue. It’s absolutely heartbreaking,” Jim said.
“The girls were always very happy together, and they would be in and out of all our houses. They were great fun. They were all outgoing and sociable girls, and a joy to be around,” Josephine said.
“Gemma played the accordian in the Scoil Mhuire band as a child, and she like walking and ice skating and going to the gym,” she added.
While coming to terms with the death of their daughter, the parents said the deaths of all friends was a “big blow” to Carlow,
St Patrick's lecturer Catherine O'Sullivan said the teenager, who also worked in Dunnes Stores in town, was known as “a little pet” by some members of staff.
“Gemma was very well thought of by all and worked very hard,” she said. “She was a very pleasant girl.”
“Her classmates have been calling us and know about the accident and they are all very upset.”
Supports services are on standby for her classmates, on what is their first day back in college since they all went on placement in September.
Three councillors and the chaplaincy are in the college, while the dining hall will stay open this evening for her friends to meet.
“The college is definitely trying to do everything it can to offer support,” Ms Nolan added.
Grief-stricken family and friends of Niamh Doyle gathered at her house at Mount Leinster Park in Carlow today.
A cousin of the 19-year-old described her as “beautiful” adding “any mother or father would have loved to have her as a daughter”.
“She was so smiley, she would light up a room,” she added.
The youngest of three children, her older brother Kevin was making his way home from Australia today having learned of the terrible news last night.
Ashling Middleton (19) was from Coney Meadows in the Coneyboro estate in Athy where neighbours were today in shock.
“She was a very good neighbour. A lovely girl,” said one local man.
"We are deeply saddened and shocked to learn of the death of Ashling Middleton, a second year student of English and Anthropology at Maynooth University, in the tragic road accident last evening, 6 January 2015, which claimed four lives," the university said in a statement.
"Our thoughts are with the families and friends of the four young women so suddenly and sadly taken from us. We are mindful also of the three people injured in the accident who remain in hospital, and we hope for their full recovery."
The driver of the van and the male passenger are both believed to be Polish nationals.
Saint Leo’s College in Carlow has issued a statement following the crash: "It is with great sadness that we learned of the tragic accident involving five of our past pupils.
"The staff and students of Saint Leo’s College are devastated at the loss of four beautiful young girls. We extend our heartfelt sympathies to their families and friends at this awful time. May their gentle souls rest in peace.
"We pray for their friend who was injured in last night’s crash and ask God to extend his healing grace to her. We also think of the driver and passenger in the van and ask God to be with them and their families."
IT Carlow confirmed Dayna Kearney is a second year student in the college, where she is taking a degree in media and public relations.
"The staff and students at IT Carlow are shocked and saddened to hear about the fatal car accident last night in which four young women were killed and three others were injured," Dr. Patricia Mulcahy, President, IT Carlow said.
"This is having a devastating impact on the whole community of Carlow including ourselves in the Institute. Our thoughts and prayers are with all the families and friends affected by this tragedy.
"We pray for the recovery of Dayna Kearney, the young woman who was injured in the accident, who is a student of this Institute."
Fr Frank McEvoy was called to the tragic scene where he gave the four dead women the last rites on the roadside.
Speaking to Newstalk’s Pat Kenny, the priest, from the Narraghmore/Moone Parish in Kildare, said he wished to extend his sympathies to the families of the bereaved and his prayers to those in hospital.
“I was called out by gardai last night... to see four young bodies on the side of the road, it was very sad and very sobering,” he said.
“It really brought it home. So many people are careful on the roads now but anything can happen.
“To see four young bodies lying on the side of the road was very sad and very sobering.
“When you stand there and see four young bodies with their whole lives ahead of them,” the priest said.
Fr McEvoy was alerted at approximately 11.45pm, almost two hours after the incident took place.
“Nothing could be done for those women, the inspector said to me the families would appreciate it if a priest came and prayed for them on the side of the road,” he continued.
“The driving conditions seemed okay, it was cold and windy but the roads were not slippery.”
A scene of carnage awaited him at the roadside.
“The car that the girls (were in) had the roof taken off but it was mangled.
The van on the other side had to be taken away from the car because it was on fire, it had to be pulled away from car,” he continued.
The three injured in the collision are being treated at Naas General Hospital. The two Polish men had been transporting a motorcycle when the crash happened.
As daylight broke the true carnage of the scene became visible, with the burned-out van in the middle of the road and the VW Polo the girls were travelling in lying destroyed at the side of the road.
The van was facing the direction of the M9 motorway, whereas the girls were believed to be travelling in the opposite direction towards Athy.
Diversions were put in place following the collision and the road will remain closed until later today to facilitate a full forensic collision examination.
County Councillor Aoife Breslin, based in Athy, said she had been returning from a funeral last night when she was diverted from the main road due to the horrific collision.
"It’s absolutely horrific," she said.
"There was a lot of activity on the road, the guards had just arrived and they were trying to get people off the road and trying to block the road. But by the amount of sirens and amount of people milling about I knew it was something serious."
It was the second major collision to take place on what is known locally as the spur road in recent years.
In 2013 an elderly woman was killed and her husband was left fighting for his life following a horror road crash which also claimed the life of a motorcyclist.
Ms Breslin said she has no idea what might have caused the crash.
"It's such a wide road, I really don't understand how it could have happened. It's devastating news for a number of families in the area," she added.
Cllr Mark Wall, who was travelling with his colleague in the car, said Athy had been numbed by the tragedy.
"It was an unbelievable sight," he said.
"There were so many emergency services on site and as we were diverted away more were rushing to the scene.
"This is such a tragedy for everyone involved. Everybody in Athy is in shock this morning."
Last year was the second successive year the overall death toll has increased on Irish roads, and is up a dramatic 21pc compared to the 2012 figure of 162. The Road Safety Authority (RSA) also noted a 24pc rise in "vulnerable road users" killed compared to 2013.
Witnesses to the collision are asked to contact gardai in Athy (059 8634210) or the Confidential Line on 1800 666 111.