The knock that every parent dreads hearing

Tuesday night was horrific. The high winds drove in sheets of rain across the west and enveloped the region in a deluge. People who were in for the night huddled closer to the fire and listened to the lashing rain wallop their roofs and flood their gardens. Those of a spirtual bent would look at the raging elements and wish good fortune to all who had to brave them. Roads were covered with a sheet of rain; rivers and streams broke their banks, and in four households, heavy footsteps made their way hesitantly across the water-covered footpaths before delivering news that would change the lives of four families forever.

It’s the knock that no parent wants to hear and one that no garda, no matter how well trained or toughened, likes to make. When a parent raises a child to school-leaving age and then beyond into young adulthood, into college and into the independence and responsibilty of what comes with that, there is a sense that the most difficult part is over. That the dangers of childhood have passed. However, it is so paining, that just when the four young women were on the cusp of leaping forward into post-college life, this tragedy should take them away and rob their families of a valuable presence.

It was meant to be a joyous day out. A break from the monotony of college. A winter’s day shared with friends — It was a grown up day, shopping for Christmas, looking at fashions to wear at the inevitable social roundabout between here and the holidays. Having coffees and chats and laughs. The road that the five students took between here and Sligo is, in the main, an excellent motorway. Their tragic misfortune is that when the weather was at its very worst, they had to be travelling at the very worst piece of that route — an accident blackspot the removal of which has been the subject of much deliberation for decades.

The fine roads that lead to Milltown end, and from there to Ballindine, the road is treacherous. Indeed, it is probably the only dangerous stretch on the long road from Galway to Derry. Not a place you want to be driving when the rain is lashing against the windscreen faster than the wipers can cope as headlight after headlight comes at you.

NUI, Galway is no stranger to tragic deaths among its students. Indeed, they have a bursary in honour of a young journalism student — Donna Ferguson — who died in a crash while a student on campus. Yesterday, there was palpable shock on campus at the deaths of Marie Conneely, Sarah Beirne, Teresa Molloy and Sorcha Rose McLoughlin. In several services, students also prayed for the recovery of Michelle O’Donnell who was seriously injured in the crash.

Lest we forget too, another woman — mother of 12, Sally O’Brien — lost her life in Williamstown earlier that day when her car went out of control and crashed into a house. An horrific enough incident in its own right, but one that was overshadowed by the horror not too far away later than night.

This week, let us put all thoughts of NAMA, negative equity, and cutbacks our of our minds and say a prayer for the families who suffered this terrible loss. Our thoughts are with them at this most awful of times, when the ache at their loss is a searing pain in the pit of their stomach, a pain that seems like it will never go away. May God help them.

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