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The promise and talent of four friends wiped out in a split second

“WE are not our past, we are not our future. We are the present,” Ashling Middleton had carefully written in her school yearbook.

WE are not our past, we are not our future. We are the present,” Ashling Middleton had carefully written in her school yearbook.

“With our dreams we have the ability to transform the world from the mundane to the beautiful, from the grey to the gold. If some day we lose these goals for a while, we shouldn’t worry.

“Like the friends, which we have made in the last six years, our dreams will always await our return and welcome us back with open arms and a wise smile willing to chase away the darkness of failure in return for a little time and care.”

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St Leo's tribute to the four young women who died.

St Leo's tribute to the four young women who died.

St Leo's tribute to the four young women who died.

Her luminous words – so full of promise and talent – were “almost prophetic”, her school principal Clare Ryan said yesterday, in numb disbelief at the sheer scale of tragedy that had befallen her beloved, tight-knit community at St Leo’s College.

The four young girls’ lives were wiped out in a split second in the Athy car crash last Tuesday.

Last night, amid incomprehensible grief, their college friends gathered together to say a tearful farewell to each one.

The bodies were laid out in their homes and in funeral parlours in Carlow and Naas. Each goodbye followed another in an appalling litany of sorrow as mourners attempted to console each heartbroken family.

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Students of St Leo's College Carlow link arms as they attend after a Mass for five past pupils involved in a car crash on Tuesday night. Picture: Mark Condren

Students of St Leo's College Carlow link arms as they attend after a Mass for five past pupils involved in a car crash on Tuesday night. Picture: Mark Condren

Students of St Leo's College Carlow link arms as they attend after a Mass for five past pupils involved in a car crash on Tuesday night. Picture: Mark Condren

The sheer wall of stony grief that held Carlow in its grip was almost physically palpable.

It was on everybody's lips as they struggled to comprehend the loss of four bright, young, beautiful women on the cusp of their adult lives.

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The wreckage of the car is removed from the scene of the crash. Photo: Collins

The wreckage of the car is removed from the scene of the crash. Photo: Collins

Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

The scene of a fatal crash on the N78 near Athy, Co Kildare, where four young women lost their lives in a collision with a van last night. Picture Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin.

The scene of a fatal crash on the N78 near Athy, Co Kildare, where four young women lost their lives in a collision with a van last night. Picture Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin.

Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

The two vehicles are removed from the scene of a fatal crash on the N78 near Athy, Co. Kildare. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin.

The two vehicles are removed from the scene of a fatal crash on the N78 near Athy, Co. Kildare. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin.

Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

Scene of a crash in Athy, Co Kildare that killed four and left three seriously injured (Photo: Kyran O'Brien)

Scene of a crash in Athy, Co Kildare that killed four and left three seriously injured (Photo: Kyran O'Brien)

Scene of a crash in Athy, Co Kildare that killed four and left three seriously injured (Photo: Kyran O'Brien)

Scene of a crash in Athy, Co Kildare that killed four and left three seriously injured (Photo: Kyran O'Brien)

Scene of a crash in Athy, Co Kildare that killed four and left three seriously injured (Photo: Kyran O'Brien)

Scene of a crash in Athy, Co Kildare that killed four and left three seriously injured (Photo: Kyran O'Brien)

Scene of a crash in Athy, Co Kildare that killed four and left three seriously injured (Photo: Kyran O'Brien)

Scene of a crash in Athy, Co Kildare that killed four and left three seriously injured (Photo: Kyran O'Brien)

Scene of a crash in Athy, Co Kildare that killed four and left three seriously injured (Photo: Kyran O'Brien)

Scene of a crash in Athy, Co Kildare that killed four and left three seriously injured (Photo: Kyran O'Brien)

Scene of a crash in Athy, Co Kildare that killed four and left three seriously injured (Photo: Kyran O'Brien)

Scene of a crash in Athy, Co Kildare that killed four and left three seriously injured (Photo: Kyran O'Brien)

Scene of a crash in Athy, Co Kildare that killed four and left three seriously injured (Photo: Kyran O'Brien)

Scene of a crash in Athy, Co Kildare that killed four and left three seriously injured (Photo: Kyran O'Brien)

Scene of a crash in Athy, Co Kildare that killed four and left three seriously injured (Photo: Kyran O'Brien)

Scene of a crash in Athy, Co Kildare that killed four and left three seriously injured (Photo: Kyran O'Brien)

Scene of a crash in Athy, Co Kildare that killed four and left three seriously injured (Photo: Kyran O'Brien)

Scene of a crash in Athy, Co Kildare that killed four and left three seriously injured (Photo: Kyran O'Brien)

Scene of a crash in Athy, Co Kildare that killed four and left three seriously injured (Photo: Kyran O'Brien)

Scene of a crash in Athy, Co Kildare that killed four and left three seriously injured (Photo: Kyran O'Brien)

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The wreckage of the car is removed from the scene of the crash. Photo: Collins

Over the next two days, the mourners will go through the grief of four funerals.

Chermaine Carroll (20) will be laid to rest today following a funeral at 11am at St Mary's church in Bennekerry, Carlow. Gemma Nolan (19) will be buried after a funeral service at 2pm at the Holy Family church in Askea, Carlow.

Tomorrow, the funeral of Niamh Doyle (19) will take place at the Holy Family Church in Askea, Carlow at noon, while Ashling Middleton (19) will be laid to rest after a funeral at 2pm in Ballycane in Naas.

The driver of the car, Dayna Kearney (20), remains in a serious condition in hospital.

Nearly 1,000 pupils from the girls' former school, St Leo's College, attended a service at Carlow Cathedral in remembrance of the four friends.

They heard how they had a great love of life and were "beautiful girls, full of craic and goodness".

Celebrant John Cummins said "a cloud hangs over Carlow this week; heavy and grey, and heartbreaking".

The tight-knit school community now finds themselves in an "unwanted place of grief and sorrow" after the crash on Tuesday.

Four separate books of condolence were open at the door of the cathedral for the girls who died.

Teachers, family friends, and members of the Middleton, Nolan, Doyle and Carroll families were also in attendance, along with former classmates of the girls from the class of 2013.

Fr John Cummins who celebrated the service said they had gathered as a community "in deep shock and deep mourning".

At times like this, people ask what they can do, he said.

"I ask you to pray for the families of these girls and for Dayna - they need your support, that's why we're here," he said.

He said the girls had symbolised all that was best about St Leo's.

When their class had graduated, they had chosen the words from 'Oh the Places You'll Go!' - the children's storybook by Dr Seuss.

The words - so full of hope and optimism epitomised just what these girls stood for, he said.

"They embraced life with all its beauty, adventure and challenges."

The service opened with students singing the hymn "Be not afraid".

Afterwards, St Leo's College Principal Clare Ryan said the entire school was heartbroken.

"When it's multiple, everything is amplified because we're talking about each family, community and context - it's hard to fathom," she said.

Each girl had been gifted in different ways, she recalled.

Now all the school could do was to let the families know how deeply their children had been held in regard, she said with great sadness.

Irish Independent