A “cloud of sadness and devastation” hung over a Co Tipperary town after four young people died in a car crash while on the way to celebrate their State exam results.
Luke McSweeney, 24, his sister Grace McSweeney, 18, Zoey Coffey, 18, and Nicole Murphy, 18, died after the car they were travelling in struck a wall and overturned in Clonmel.
They had been on their way to celebrate after the three teenagers received their Leaving Certificate exam results earlier that day.
The principals of the two schools the teenagers had attended said they had received “excellent” results and were looking forward to the next phase of their lives.
President of Ireland Michael D Higgins and Ireland’s premier Leo Varadkar were among those who expressed their deepest sympathies with the families and the local community.
“For young lives, so full of possibility, to be cut short in this way is truly devastating and heartbreaking. The whole nation mourns them,” Mr Varadkar said.
“My sincere condolences to the families and friends of those who have died and the wider community in Clonmel and Tipperary. The thoughts of the whole country are with them, their school and their community.”
Speaking on Saturday afternoon, Superintendent Kieran Ruane, of Clonmel garda station, extended his sympathies to their families, who he said had appealed for privacy.
He said a Garda investigation had been launched into the incident, which would focus on delivering a report to the local coroner.
Heavy downpours on Friday evening would form part of the investigation, he said.
He praised the work of the first responders who attended the scene, which he described as “very difficult”, as “exemplary”.
“For the members to arrive and quickly realise that there was three Leaving Cert students and their brother at the scene, and unfortunately all were dead, is a very traumatic scene for everybody,” he said.
Michael O’Loughlin, the principal of Presentation Secondary School where Ms McSweeney and Ms Coffey attended, said the town was “covered in a cloud of sadness and devastation”, and said “no words can express our sorrow, our pain and our grief”.
Local secondary schools in the town that the four young people had attended opened on Saturday to support students as the community comes to term with the tragedy.
Several local sporting events and the Clonmel Pride parade, as well as other activities in the area, have been cancelled in the wake of the fatal crash out of respect for the grieving families.
Bouquets of flowers were left near the scene by locals and students, who were seen comforting each other.
Minister for education Norma Foley pledged psychological support for students and staff.
“This is heartbreaking news on what should have been a day of enormous celebration and joy for the class of 2023,” she said.
“School communities in Ireland are akin to tight-knit families and I know this morning that staff, students, parents and guardians will be united in their grief and utter devastation at this tragic and sudden loss of life.”
Local TD Mattie McGrath said Clonmel had been “left numbed” by the loss and that it would “take some time to recover”, but that the community would rally around those grieving the losses.
A vigil is to be held in Clonmel at 6.30pm on Sunday night, and books of condolences will be opened in council offices on Monday morning.
Father Michael Toomey, a chaplain of CBS High School in Clonmel, urged the community to ask for help if they need it.
“Please, look out for one another in these days, and don’t be afraid to look for help and support in the coming days.”
The scene at Mountain Road remains closed to allow for a forensic examination, and Gardai are appealing for witnesses to come forward.
Anyone with camera footage or images from the Mountain Road, specifically the Hillview area, between 7pm and 7.30pm on Friday is asked to submit it to Gardai.
Post-mortem examinations are to be carried out over the coming days at Waterford University Hospital.
An incident room has been established at Clonmel garda station and family liaison officers have been appointed to each of the families.
“Our local communities in particular Clonmel, Kilsheelan and Ballypatrick are shocked and deeply saddened by these events,” Mr Ruane said.
“I want to assure our local communities that An Garda Siochana is here over the coming days, weeks and months to support our communities as we all come to terms with this tragedy.
“I have been in contact with the principals of the local secondary schools that the girls attended and supports are being put in place for the friends of all four deceased today and over the next few days.”
The fatal crash follows on from other tragic events over the summer period involving school leavers.
In July, two Dublin teenagers died while in holiday in Greece and two teenage best friends were killed in a crash while travelling to a Debs ball in Co Monaghan.