THE bells tolled endlessly and hauntingly across a blackened Donegal peninsula ten years ago this week.
The night of July 11, 2010 remains unspeakable in many corners of Inishowen.
Eight men, including a party of seven young friends, were killed in what remains the worst crash in the history of the state.
Fr Rafal Januszewski, a Polish curate based in Buncrana at the time, traveled to Letterkenny General Hospital with Parish Priest Fr John Walsh,
The scene that greeted the clerics was stark.
Fr Januszewski recalled around 60 relatives, silent and ashen-faced in the corridors.
Words did not come easy. Ten years on, they still don’t.
A black Volskswagen Passat, in which eight young men were traveling, collided with a red Toyota Corolla at Glasmullan on the R238 Buncrana-Clonmany road.
The death toll was horrific.
Eamon McDaid (22), of Ballymagan, Buncrana; Mark McLaughlin (21), of Ballinahone, Fahan; Paul Doherty (19), of Ardagh, Ballyliffin; Ciarán Sweeney (19), of Ballyliffin; PJ McLaughlin (21), of Rockstown, Burnfoot; James McEleney (23), of Meenaduff, Clonmany and Damien McLaughlin (21), of Umricam, Buncrana were passengers in the Passat who died.
Pensioner Hughie Friel (66) of Dunaff, Clonmany, was the driver of the Corolla who also lost his life in the tragic accident.
The sole survivor was Shaun Kelly, who was driving the Passat.
Earlier that night, the friends had watched the World Cup final in the High Stool Bar in Clonmany. Kelly had been the designated driver.
Hugh Friel was coming home from bingo in Buncrana having won a €65 full house prize.
Cruel fate aligned Mr Friel’s path with that of the Passat.
The incident sent shockwaves around the world.
The images themselves told a tale that words could not.
“Many, many people were there inside – there were maybe 20 people in the corridor but they were very quiet,” Fr Januszewski recalled of his visit to hospital.
“Nobody was talking but some people were crying,” the priest said. “They were distraught. We were talking about this tragedy and offering words of comfort to help to give them peace.”
Emergency services rushed to the scene. Many of the 22 firemen who attended to the carnage required counselling in the aftermath.
Fr Walsh and Fr FIntan Diggin also attended the grim scene.
It was described as ’truly one of Donegal’s darkest days’ by the then Mayor of Buncrana and now TD Padraig Mac Lochlainn.
Coroner Mr John Madden said: “This was the most difficult and stressful inquest I have ever been involved in. It is the worst thing any parent can do to bury their own child. It shocked Ireland and it shocked the world.”
The inquest, in February 2016, saw a jury return a verdict of unlawful killing.
After three days of often fractious proceedings in which the man responsible had denied causing the crash, despite pleading guilty, the jury reached its verdict late last night.
The jury said each of the men died from injuries caused by a road traffic collision and were ‘unlawfully killed consistent with dangerous driving’.
Kelly was sentenced to eight years – with four suspended – after he pleaded guilty. The Court of Appeal doubled a sentence handed down by Letterkenny Circuit Court. Kelly was released from Loughan House in December 2017.
This week in the Inishowen Independent, Eddie Ivers, an uncle of James McEleney and the next door neighbour of Hugh Friel, recalled getting a phone call at 5.30am on the Monday morning. They watched Comiskey funeral directors leaving with ‘a couple of coffins – and that was the start of it’.
For a week, Inishowen was plunged beneath the darkest of clouds as it mourned at eight funerals, held over three days.
The bells told for a final time when James McEleney was laid to rest at St Mary’s Church, Clonmany.
Ten years on, the tears are as raw as they were on a night that will never be forgotten.
A special remembrance Mass will take place this evening on the 10th anniversary. In line with Covid-19 guidelines, the Mass is private for the families only. The mass will be live on churchservices.ie and the families ask everyone to light a candle in their own homes to honour the anniversary.