Saturday 16 December 2017

Night of carnage that shattered an entire community

The car in which 7 of the men died
The car in which 7 of the men died

Edel Kennedy

IT WAS the cruellest news.

With leaden boots, gardai walked to front doors and delivered word that shattered the entire community.

That fateful night the sharp rap on the door came eight times – Paul Doherty (19), Mark McLaughlin (21), PJ McLaughlin (21), Eamon McDaid (22), Damien McLaughlin (21), Ciaran Sweeney (19), James McEleney (23) and Hugh Friel (66).

In a single moment they were wiped out.

A total of 22 firemen attended the scene of the carnage only to discover some of them knew the victims who were killed in the head-on collision.

Some wept as the broken bodies were cut from the wreckage.

That few moments on July 11, 2010, when the Volkswagen Passet saloon carrying eight men – all aged between 19 and 23 – collided sideways with an oncoming car and then spun into the path of Mr Friel's red Toyota Corolla, changed everything for so many families.

There would be no more birthdays, no college graduations, no weddings, no grandchildren to celebrate.

Everyone in the local community in the Donegal peninsula knew at least one of the victims, and some of them were related to each other.

It was the worst crash in the history of the State, but it was more than that – it ripped out the soul of the entire community.

Later in the week their hearts broke a little more as they watched as eight hearses – one every hour – drove out of Letterkenny Hospital, bearing the men home one final time.

Thousands of people attended the funerals of the eight men whose faces adorned the front pages of newspapers.

But they weren't just pictures on a page – they were brothers, sons and friends.

Mourners were given a brief snapshot of their lives before their families went home to grieve – James McEleney who spent two weeks in Australia before getting homesick and flying home to his mother; Damien McLaughlin who just the week before had returned from Mayo with a new van.

Paul Doherty was buried on his 20th birthday and had gifts from his siblings brought to the altar; Hughie Friel was returning home that night after winning €65 in the bingo; lorry driver Mark McLaughlin who learned to drive the tractor at a young age and who was laid to rest beside his Uncle Pat; PJ McLaughlin who loved football and dressing well and always wanted to be famous; Ciaran Sweeney who was also preparing to celebrate his 20th birthday and Eamon McDaid who was car-crazy and jumped at any excuse to get behind the wheel.

Parents spoke of their grief – but also of their pride for their sons who had brought so much to their lives.

Four years on, the void remains.

Irish Independent

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