A 19-year-old woman was fighting for her life last night after a sand dune collapsed on top of her.
Niamh McCarthy, from Minane Bridge, Carrigaline, Co Cork, had been enjoying a break with friends in the Maherees in west Kerry when tragedy struck yesterday afternoon on the beach at Kilshanning, known locally as the back beach.
Her parents, Tom and Catherine, arrived at Kerry General Hospital (KGH) last night to be at their daughter's bedside.
The young student and her friends were digging a hole on the sand dunes and jumping in when she fell headfirst into it and the dune collapsed on top of her, trapping her.
Her friends quickly raised the alarm and alerted locals who arrived on the scene and helped to try to dig her out. The emergency services were also called.
Beach-goers frantically dug with their bare hands but their efforts were frustrated by the moving sands. Local man Aidan O'Connor was one of the first on the scene and desperately tried to save the student.
It is understood she was trapped underneath the sand for about 20 minutes.
Two ambulances and two units of the fire brigade from Tralee attended the scene.
The rescue efforts were further hampered when one of the ambulances got stuck in the sand and had to be dug out by locals.
Paramedics worked on the young student at the scene before she was transferred to KGH.
Local woman Joan Hennessy said the community had been horrified by the events, which happened at around 2.45pm.
"The whole place is in shock and for such a tragedy to happen on such a beautiful day," she said.
Ms McCarthy, a student at University College Cork and a singer with her local choir, had been staying in a rented house in Kilshanning, Castlegregory, with eight friends, some of whom she had known since primary school and others from secondary school.
A neighbour said the group had been enjoying their holiday and the nice weather and there was constant laughter coming from the house.
"There was just such happiness and joy coming from that house," he said. "They had a barbecue last night and you could hear the hollers of laughter. They're just broken now after this."
Members of the local community helped transport Ms McCarthy's friends to the hospital and remained with them to offer support and comfort.