Four friends killed in road crash
Four young lifelong friends killed in a road accident had been planning to spend the night together before they died.
The women - three aged 19 and one aged 20 - were pronounced dead at the scene of the crash on a wide, well-maintained stretch of the N78 between Athy and the M9 motorway in Co Kildare.
They were Ashling Middleton, 19, from Coney Meadows, Coneyboro in Athy; Niamh Doyle, also 19, from Mount Leinster Park in Carlow town; Gemma Nolan, the other 19-year-old, from Idrone Park, Tullow Road also in Carlow Town; and 20-year-old Chermaine Carroll from Dolmen Heights, Pollerton, Co Carlow.
Their friend Dayna Kearney, 20, from Crosneen, also Carlow town and a student at IT Carlow, was the driver of the car the girls were in, a silver Volkswagen Polo. She survived with serious injuries.
Two men, believed to be from Eastern Europe and who were in the Volkswagen Transporter van which was in collision with the girl's car, were also treated in hospital.
Ms Middleton was studying English and anthropology at NUI Maynooth while Ms Doyle had been living in Waterford and Ms Nolan was studying at St Patrick's College in Carlow.
Ms Carroll last year finished studies in Carlow Institute of Further Education and had been working in the Woodford Dolmen Hotel in the town.
Distraught relatives revealed the girls had travelled to Athy to collect a laptop from Ms Middleton's house after spending the evening in Kilkenny before heading towards Carlow to spend the night together.
Local priest Fr Frank McEvoy was called to the scene of the crash and administered last rites and offered prayers for the survivors.
"It was a very sombre and sad scene there last night to see four young people lying at the side of the road dead. All we could do was just administer the last rites and pray," he said.
Driving conditions were considered to be fine at the time of the accident, 9.45pm, several kilometres from junction three of the M9 motorway.
The road is regarded locally as being wide, relatively safe and well maintained.
The cars came to a halt about 100m past a junction for the local road to Irishtown.
The van the men had been in was dragged into the middle of the road by emergency crews after it caught fire following the impact while the hatchback the girls had been in came to halt on a grass verge where the roof was cut off by fire crews.
It is believed the side of the car may have been in collision with the front of the van.
All the girls had been friends and went to school together at St Leo's College in Carlow.
A spokeswoman for the school said: "It is with great sadness that we learned of the tragic accident involving five of our past pupils.
"The staff and students of Saint Leo's College are devastated at the loss of four beautiful young girls.
"We extend our heartfelt sympathies to their families and friends at this awful time. May their gentle souls rest in peace."
Prayers were also offered at the school for the survivors' recovery.
Dr Patricia Mulcahy, president of IT Carlow where Ms Kearney was studying media and public relations, said staff and students were left shocked and saddened.
"This is having a devastating impact on the whole community of Carlow including ourselves in the Institute," she said.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with all the families and friends affected by this tragedy."
A spokesman for NUI Maynooth said the college community had been left experiencing the same emotions over the tragedy.
"Our thoughts are with the families and friends of the four young women so suddenly and sadly taken from us. We are mindful also of the three people injured in the accident who remain in hospital and we hope for their full recovery," he said.
Both the university and the IT offered support and counselling services to students and staff.
Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin Denis Nulty asked for prayers for all of those affected.
"I ask the faithful of the diocese to pray for the deceased, the injured, the bereaved, friends, colleagues, the emergency services and all those affected by this tragedy," the cleric said.
"It is a dark day for the people of Carlow, Rathcoole and Athy, and there is very little any of us can say at this time to comfort those bereaved by this tragedy.
"I pray that the families will receive all the support they need at this time and that they will be given privacy to mourn their loved ones."
The bodies of the dead women, all passengers in the car, were removed from the crash site in hearses overnight.
About 1km of road around the crash site remained closed for several hours for forensic investigators.
Ireland's road death toll last year increased for the second year in a row after reaching record lows with 196 people losing their lives, compared with 190 in 2013.
The latest deaths, and two others on the roads since the New Year, prompted safety chiefs to renew calls for drivers to take increased care.
On the back of the rise in statistics last year, the Road Safety Authority (RSA) said it has been an equally tragic and poor start for road safety in 2015.
RSA chief executive Moyagh Murdock said: "It's been an appalling start to the year and mirrors exactly the situation at the same time last year.
"If anything should come from such loss of life, it's that it may serve as a reminder to us all that using the road is the most dangerous thing we do every day. All it takes is a split second for a situation to turn to tragedy."
Safety chiefs called for walkers, cyclists and bikers to wear hi-vis jackets, drivers to slow down and all vehicle users to wear seatbelts, not to use a mobile phone while driving or get behind the wheel while impaired, whether through drink, drugs or tiredness.
Ms Murdock added: "As a community, we simply must stop the carnage we have witnessed on our roads recently.
"Each one of us has the power to make a difference on the road. We did it before, in 2012, when we saved more lives on the road than ever before. We need to do it again in 2015."