A CHRISTMAS trip to the races turned to tragedy yesterday when a minibus carrying post office workers crashed, killing one woman and injuring 18 others.
The latest victim of the country's cold snap Breda O'Connor (41) died when the bus, destined for the Leopardstown Races, hit a stretch of black ice and overturned outside Gorey, Co Wexford.
It is understood the force of the crash propelled mother-of-three Ms O'Connor through the windscreen.
Passengers were left screaming in panic as they desperately tried to get out of the vehicle as fears grew that it could catch fire.
Witnesses said it was a miracle that nobody else was killed. Some 18 people were taken to hospital to be treated for a range of injuries, from bumps and bruises to broken legs.
In a bizarre sequence of events, an ambulance and a garda car also crashed en route to the scene of the accident, with the ambulance flipping onto its side.
Neither the paramedics nor the gardai in either vehicle were seriously injured.
Gardai confirmed that the N11, where the crash took place, had been gritted.
An Post said last night that the Leopardstown excursion had been organised by local staff and post office operators in the Wexford-Enniscorthy area and was not an official trip.
Ms O'Connor, from The Ballagh, had been working as a post office assistant in Castlebridge, Co Wexford, for the past number of years.
Her husband, Hugh, is well known for his hurling exploits with local GAA club, Oulart-the-Ballagh and the couple have two daughters Sinead (21), Eimear (7) and one son Pa (19).
Ms O'Connor's affiliation with An Post stretches back decades as her parents ran an outlet in her native Curracloe, which is now headed by her brother.
"On behalf of the chief executive and all the staff at An Post, I would like to express our deepest sympathies to the O'Connor family.
"We are shocked and saddened at this tragedy," a spokeswoman for An Post told the Irish Independent.
The local communities of The Ballagh and Curracloe were left reeling following the news of Ms O'Connor's death last night.
One neighbour told how attending the Leopardstown Races was one of the highlights of Ms O'Connor's year.
"This is a terrible tragedy for the young family, especially so close after Christmas," the neighbour said.
"The sympathy of the whole parish goes out to the family in what is a terrible tragedy on what was to be a joyous day out at the races."
Ms O'Connor's body was removed from the accident scene to Waterford Regional Hospital where she was pronounced dead.
The bus driver, named locally as John Dalton, from Wexford town, was taken to St Vincent's Hospital in Dublin after suffering two broken legs.
Investigating gardai confirmed that the treacherous stretch of road had been gritted earlier that day.
"Locals say they had a shower of rain at around 9am which became frozen over. This possibly led to the accident," Inspector Michael Walsh said.
"Also the garda patrol car skidded in the area going down a small embankment but no one was injured," he added.