I didn't hear about the crash until the following morning. I hoped that there had been a big mistake, that reports were overly dramatic. But sadly, no. My second thought was who were these girls ? I was filled with dread. 'College students', the reports said. I thought of all the young college goers that I knew around Athy. I phoned a neighbour. It seemed that we didn't know any of the dead. I felt a sense of relief. Then I felt guilty for feeling that sense of relief. They were someone's daughters.
I usually drive to work via the road where the accident took place. It's a slightly longer journey, but I feel safer driving on the motor way. I feel that too many people take chances on the 'old' road from Athy to Kilcullen. But the morning after the car crash, I reverted to driving on the 'old' road, shedding tears as further news drip fed in on the radio.
I cried for the four girls whom I do not know, shocked at the way they died. The opportunities they will miss. All the things they had yet to experience. That family event they won't attend. That empty place at the table. Motherhood. Supporting their parents as they get older.
I cried for their parents, getting that awful knock on the door. That pale faced Garda knowing that he or she was going to change the lives of that house with the delivery of that news. No easy way to break it. No way to make that news any easier to hear. Except maybe that their daughters died amongst friends. I could almost hear their youthful, infectious chatter in the car, talking over each other, the way that friends do, probably right up until the moment of the crash. Easy in each others company. Reviewing Christmas and the New Year. Bargain clothes bought in the New Year sales. College exams and plans for 2015.
In the coming weeks and months there will be much talk about what happened to cause this accident, but I don't want to speculate. In those weeks and months, the girls families and friends will probably be full of 'what if's'. If the girls had that extra cup of tea in someone's house. If they hadn't dropped in to pick up the laptop. If they stopped at a shop en route. If the van driver had stopped to get fuel for his journey. Was this their destiny ? Or just the wrong place at the wrong time ? Why, oh why, so young ? Why all together ? If only I got to say goodbye. To tell her how much I loved her.
I drove home by the scene of the accident last night. It was dark and there was a spattering of rain. The road was quiet and I had an ominous feeling. Apart from some flowers on the roadside, a bent road sign and a scattering of sand on the road, there wasn't much evidence of the dreadful scene a few nights previously. The flowers will fade away, the road sign will be straightened and the sand will blow off in the wind.
But the four bright, youthful faces that smiled out at us in the media over the last few days will be remembered by people, many of whom never met the girls or their families. For generations to come, their story, or this part of their story, will be immortalised in the story of Athy and of Carlow.
As I write, Finbarr Furey is singing 'When You Were Sweet Sixteen' on The Late, Late Show.
'Come to me or my dream of love is o'er
I love you as I loved you
When you were sweet
When you were sweet sixteen'
Sleep tight Aisling, Chermaine, Niamh and Gemma.
Good wishes to the three survivors of the car crash