A quiet village submerged in deep grief
The small community in Ballywalter has been left stunned by Wednesday's fatal road accident, in which a teenage schoolboy was killed and several others injured. Claire McNeilly visited the village and talked to local people about the tragedy that has rocked their lives
Ballywalter was submerged in grief yesterday as residents tried to come to terms with the terrible tragedy that has engulfed their tiny Co Down village.
Two days ago, a fatal car accident near the harbour town claimed the life of 16-year-old Glastry College pupil Matthew Holohan.
Three other boys also travelling in the vehicle were injured - including Matthew's best friend Ben Corry (16), who remained in intensive care until yesterday afternoon.
The driver, Samuel Atkinson, in his 40s and a relation of Ben's, was still in a critical condition in hospital last night.
Mr Atkinson was taking the four schoolboys to sit a mock GCSE exam when the car they were in careered off the road and into a grass verge in front of the sea.
Matthew's tearful mother, Jennifer, said yesterday that she needed some more time to come to terms with what has happened.
"We just can't take it in," she said.
"It's too soon. We're too devastated to talk about it."
The blinds on the windows of the Holohan's house on Main Street remained closed throughout yesterday and the lights on their Christmas tree in the hallway were off.
Now, a makeshift shrine on the coast road between Ballyhalbert and Portavogie on the Ards peninsula - comprised entirely of flowers - marks the spot where her son was killed and his friends were injured.
All day yesterday, despite a bitter wind and raging sea, cars continued to pull up with mourners from Ballywalter who wished to pay their respects to Matthew.
Ben's father, John (49) visited the scene of the crash with his wife Nora (40) and their 12-year-old daughter Ashleigh, shortly after they learned that Ben was out of intensive care.
"Our wee fella is so lucky to be alive," John said.
"It is a miracle the car didn't hit the rocks after it went off the road, but it ploughed into a strip of grass and that must've stopped it. There were bits of car everywhere - glass from the lights, parts of the suspension..."
His wife said that the tragedy has brought the small Co Down community to its knees.
"I really feel for Jennifer," she said.
"Our thoughts are with her and her family. It's hard to imagine what they are going through.
"We're all so close in the village; the boys grew up here together. I think that's what makes it so hard to cope with.
"We are still waiting to find out what exactly happened, what caused the accident.
"All Ben can remember is that there was a lorry and then the car went spinning. He went out the back window and was thrown 140ft."
Paying tribute to Matthew, she added: "He was such a character, he was lovely.
"That's why he was so popular with everyone.
"The boys were all so close ... I haven't even told Ben what has happened yet. I don't know how to."