THE family of a young woman killed alongside three friends in a horrific road collision have spoken of the moment they heard of the crash.
The parents of Gemma Nolan (19) said they feared the worst when the girls did not arrive in Carlow late on Tuesday night.
Their daughter had been killed instantly alongside her childhood friends Ashling Middleton, Niamh Doyle (both 19) and Chermaine Carroll (20) in the crash near Athy.
Gemma's mother Josephine said the girls had been in Kilkenny earlier in the day, had gone ice skating, and were on their way to Athy to pick up Ashling'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 was afraid it was them," said Mrs Nolan.
"Our son identified Gemma in the morgue. It's absolutely heart-breaking," added Gemma's father Jim.
Ashling came from Coneyboro, Athy while the other girls all lived in Carlow - where they were headed before tragedy struck before 10pm on Tuesday at Burtown, Co Kildare.
A fifth friend, Dayna Kearney (20) from Crosneen in Carlow was driving the Volkswagen Polo which was involved in a collision with a van three miles from the M9 motorway. She is believed to have suffered spinal injuries and is in a serious condition in intensive care.
The occupants of the van, Polish nationals Mariusz Wawrzos, from Friars Green, and Przemyslaw Gorkowy, Oakley Park, both Carlow, were also injured in the crash and their vehicle caught fire.
They were being treated in Naas General Hospital yesterday.
The girls had been pupils at St Leo's College until they headed off to college. Today more than 1,000 pupils and teachers will gather for a special prayer service in their memory.
An aunt of Niamh Doyle, who was now in her second year of social studies at Waterford IT, said she initially did not plan to join her friends on their trip.
"Niamh didn't want to go because she couldn't ice-skate, two of the girls couldn't," said the aunt.
"They were on their way home. We don't know what happened."
Staff at St Patrick's College in Carlow, where Gemma was in the second year of a social studies degree, said she had recently completed a 12-week placement in a school for children with autism.
Lecturer Catherine O'Sullivan said she was known as "a little pet" by staff.
"Gemma was very well thought of by all and worked very hard. Her classmates have been calling us and know about the accident and are all very upset," she added.
Staff at the Woodford Dolmen Hotel, where Chermaine had worked for the past three years, were visibly upset as they described her as being "one of the family".
"Chermaine was the bubbliest person you could meet. She was loved by customers and staff alike," said Clare Kavanagh, deputy general manager.
"She was a girl you would always remember. It's just so hard to find yourself talking about her in the past tense."
Meanwhile, Maynooth University, where Ashling was in the second year of an English and Anthropology degree, said it was providing counselling services to students and staff.
In a statement it said it was "deeply saddened and shocked" to learn of Ashling's death.