In what would have been a joyous occasion for many, a school in Ireland had to welcome its students ‘in grief’ after learning about the crash that fatally killed four young people as they were about to celebrate their Leaving Certificate exam results.
Zoey Coffey, 18, Nicole Murphy, 18, Grace McSweeney, 18 and Luke McSweeney, 24, the driver of the car, were killed in the tragedy, which happened on Mountain Road in the town of Clonmel on Friday evening (August 25).
The victims, who are all understood to be from the local area, are believed to have been on their way to celebrate the results of their Leaving Certificate exams they received earlier.
Anne McGrath, principal of Loreto Secondary School, told RTE Radio that the students were on their way to Carlow to celebrate their exam results but returned to Clonmel when they heard about the fatal crash.
She said: “Some of the girls were already in Carlow, some were on the way. Some, ironically enough, were playing a football match and were on the way by car and they just said to me that they just turned around.
“They came home, their parents supported them, and they wanted to be together. There were a lot of unknowns initially and it was very important that they were together, so that is what they have done since then.
“That’s how they’ve gotten through until now, because they can cry and grieve together. They know how each other is feeling.”
She said teachers had welcomed their students with open arms on Sunday morning in the wake of the death of past-pupil, Nicole. A memorial service was also held at the school for all the four victims.
Ms McGrath said: “They’re welcoming their students in grief this time rather than in joy as we did on Friday. Those hugs were there on Friday in happiness (at the exam results), and today they’re in consolation.”
Michael O’Loughlin, head of Presentation Secondary School, where Grace and Zoey were pupils, said the “devastation” of their deaths stretched beyond Clonmel to the whole Ballypatrick area.
He added there was a “huge interlink” between all the families affected. He told RTE Radio: “It’s just heartbreaking to get the phone call on Friday night… We were devastated.
“The news was so bad. There was no hope. And the communities of Clonmel have rallied around us, they’ve been great support, parents’ emails, messages to the school, contacting us, coming into school and supporting us and that’s what everybody needs now.
“The next few weeks are going to be very tough for us all, but I know the Clonmel community will rally around us.”
Fr Billy Meehan, parish priest at St Mary’s in Clonmel, said he gave the last rights to the victims at the scene of the crash on Friday night. He had a link to the McSweeney family, having baptised Luke and married his parents. Fr Meehan said the whole Clonmel community was behind the families and supporting them.
He said: “It brings home to us how fickle life can be, that in the space of 24 hours your whole world can change around. The Guards called me out last Friday night to tell me that there was an accident over at Hillview. I didn’t know what I was facing or who was involved in the accident.
“But when I got there and the guards told me who they were, I realised then who they were and it suddenly dawned on me: here was I, 24 years ago and 18 years ago, I had baptised Luke into the faith and set them on their faith journey, and here I was giving them absolution and anointing them as they were laid out on the Tarmac at Hillview.”