Community grieves after worst crash in history of state

A GRIEVING local community is preparing to bury eight people who died in the Republic's worst ever road accident.

A deafening silence pervaded the towns of Clonmany and Ballyliffin as heartbroken parishioners, family and friends tried to come to terms with the news eight people had been tragically killed on their roads.

Seven of them were young people travelling in one car, while the eighth man was a pensioner who was on his way home from playing bingo when the smash happened.

'Stunned and silent' - that's how one local man described the atmosphere among people in the area whose worlds have been rocked by the devasting car crash in Clonmany on Sunday evening.

Nearby the scene of the collision, two men stood with tears trickling down their faces as they looked on in horror at the place where their friends had been horrifically killed.

Gardai manned the accident blackspot, blocking off traffic as forensic experts carried out tests in an attempt to establish what happened on the blackest night in Ireland's car crash history.

In the affected towns, local community people rallied round to offer their support to the devastated families of those killed in the crash.

One man said: "We just can't believe this has happened, everybody is so shocked and devastated at this news.

"The families are just inconsolable. We are just doing what we can to help them."

The crash occurred at around 10.40pm on Sunday evening killing seven passengers of a black Volkswagen Passat along with the driver of a second car, Hughie Friel, from Urris, who was driving a red Toyota Corolla and on his way home from playing bingo in Buncrana.

The driver of the Passat was taken to Letterkenny General Hospital with serious injuries.

The eight men killed were named by police as investigations at the scene continued.

The victims who died in the two-car collision were: Mark McLauglin, aged 21, from Ballinhome, Fahan; Paul Doherty, 19, Ardagh, Ballyliffen; Ciaran Sweeney, 19, from Ballyliffen; PJ McLaughlin, 21, from Rockstown, Tooban, Burnfoot; James McEleney, 23, from Minaduff, Clonmany; Eamonn McDaid, 22, from Cruckaheeny, Ballymagan, Buncrana; Damien McLaughlin, of 21 Umricarn, Buncrana and Hugh Friel, 66, from Dunaff, Clonmany.

Seven of the victims had been in a black Volkswagen Passat which had been travelling from Clonmany to Buncrana.

Mr Friel was driving a Toyota Corolla in the direction of Clonmany. All eight men died at the scene. Both cars left the road and came to rest in a ditch and some of the bodies were recovered from outside the vehicles.

The driver of the Passat was in a critical but stable condition in Letterkenny General Hospital yesterday.

Garda revealed that the Passat had been involved in a collision with a white Renault Megane just 200 yards from the scene of the fatal accident. The driver of the Megane escaped injury.

Garda Assistant Commissioner Kieran Kenny said it was the worst road accident he has dealt with in his 34 years in the force.

"This is a very, very sad and tragic and stressful time and we will do what we can to get those people through the next few days," he told a press conference in Buncrana.

Post mortem examinations were ongoing but Asst Comm Kenny said he could not comment on whether speed or alcohol were factors in the tragedy.

Asst Comm Kenny said the accident occurred on a straight stretch of road between two bends. The road was dry at the time of the accident and it had a good surface. He said he could not comment on which passengers in the Passat had been wearing a seatbelt.