Support for Clonmel students will be in place for as long as needed – minister

Minister for education Norma Foley has said support will be in place for schools in a Co Tipperary town for as long as they are required in the wake of a crash in which four people died.

Mass services on Sunday honoured Luke McSweeney, 24, his 18-year-old sister Grace McSweeney, Zoey Coffey and Nicole Murphy, both also 18, who died while on the way to celebrate exam results.

A prayer vigil is to be held in their memory in Kickham Plaza at 6.30pm on Sunday, led by the local clergy and the Mayor of Clonmel, Richie Molloy.

Bouquets of flowers, notes and candles have continued to be left at the wall of Loreto Secondary School, where Ms Murphy went to school and which is around the corner from the scene of the crash.

Crash victims Luke McSweeney, his sister Grace McSweeney, Nicole Murphy and Zoey Coffey
Crash victims Luke McSweeney, his sister Grace McSweeney, Nicole Murphy and Zoey Coffey (Family handout/PA)

On Sunday, as Mountain Road was reopened, people covered a corner of a stone wall with more flowers, notes and candles. People also stopped their cars to stand in front of the scene and pay their respects.

The principals of Loreto and Presentation secondary school, which the three Leaving Cert students attended, have paid tribute to the students who were on their way to celebrate their exam results in Carlow.

Grace McSweeney has been described as “thoughtful, considerate, and hard-working” and “a gifted gymnast and a dancer”.

Clonmel Majorettes said Ms McSweeney had been a dedicated member of their club “for many years”, and was “a great talent in both dancing, baton and gymnastics”.

Zoey Coffey has been remembered as “warm and vibrant”, and “a diligent worker” who was popular in the school.

Nicole Murphy was described by her principal as “kind, gentle and witty”, and “a trusted and loyal friend”.

CBS High School said in a statement that they were devastated at the loss of their past pupil Luke McSweeney, and said they were supporting his and Ms McSweeney’s younger brother David, a fifth-year pupil at their school, as well as third-year pupil Ryan, brother of Ms Murphy.

Fr Michael Toomey, a chaplain at the school, described Mr McSweeney as a “quiet young man”, and a rugby player with “a great sense of humour”.

Co Tipperary fatal crash
Flowers and tributes left at the wall outside Loreto in Clonmel (Brian Lawless/PA)

On Sunday morning, students attended Loreto secondary school and Presentation secondary school to mourn together.

“They’re welcoming their students in grief this time rather than in joy as we did on Friday,” Loreto principal Anne McGrath told RTE Radio.

“Those hugs were there on Friday in happiness (at the exam results), and today they’re in consolation.”

She said that students were on their way to Carlow when they heard about the fatal crash.

“Some of the girls were already in Carlow, some were on the way. Some, ironically enough, we’re playing a football match and were on the way by car and they just said to me that they just turned around.

“They came home, their parents supported them, and they wanted to be together.

“There was a lot of unknowns initially and it was very important that they were together, so that is what they have done since then… That’s how they’ve gotten through until now, because they can cry and grieve together.”

Michael O’Loughlin, the principal of Presentation Secondary School, has asked the education authority that issues college offers to give “a bit of leeway” to students from Clonmel in the wake of the tragedy.

Co Tipperary fatal crash
Michael O’ Loughlin, principal of Presentation Secondary School Clonmel, and Anne McGrath, principal of Loreto Secondary School on Saturday (Damien Storan/PA)

The Central Applications Office (CAO) is due to issue university and college offers to school leavers on Wednesday, following the release of Leaving Cert results on Friday morning.

“On Wednesday, the girls will get their CAO and we’ll probably be dealing with funerals as well,” Mr O’Loughlin told RTE Radio.

“It’s going to be a big time for any student and sixth year to leave home to go to college, and now with that devastation with them, I would hope maybe the third-level colleges will be aware of this – that there will be students coming from Loreto and Pres, and they will support them as well.”

Education minister Norma Foley said that best practice is for school staff to offer immediate support within the “familiar” setting of the school, with the National Educational Psychological Service offering any further support.

“Those services will be in place as long as they’re required by the schools and we’re very cognisant of the fact that different schools will have different needs,” she said.

“I’m very conscious that the class of 2023 have technically moved on from the school but it is so important that they would know that the school continues to be there for them, the door of the school is always open to a student, whether they are an immediate student, or a past student, and so the supports will be ongoing as they’re required.”

Co Tipperary fatal crash
Flowers and tributes left at the scene (Brian Lawless/PA)

When asked about other tragedies involving school leavers that took place this summer, the minister said she had engaged with some of those schools involved and found they can help one another.

“I’ve always been struck where they have pointed out that they have been raised up, their hearts have been lifted by that enormous solidarity from other schools.”

Irish President Michael D Higgins and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar were among those who expressed their sympathies, with Mr Varadkar saying the nation is in mourning.

Mountain Road reopened on Sunday after a Garda forensic examination of the scene.

Gardai are appealing for witnesses and said their investigation is focusing on preparing a report for the local coroner.

Adverse weather conditions at the time of the crash, including heavy downpours at the scene when first responders arrived, will be considered as part of the inquiry.