The loss of young men in car crashes has become a tragic commonplace of Donegal life – so much so that major initiatives have been taken to reduce the toll and they have been partially successful. But the whole community here has been devasted by an accident in which eight people died – seven young men in one car and a elderly man with whom they collided.
With a phenomenon such as this, there is no single cause. It’s easy to see some of the reasons – a rural community almost without significant public transport and therefore almost entirely car-dependant; poor quality roads and thin policing; alcohol; cars as rite of passage and identity symbol for young men. The roads just don’t feel safe. The signs of ‘dough-nutting’ are common – night-time rubber-burning competitions. Groups of young people are out cruising in cars at night in a way which you don’t see elsewhere.
The Inishowen Peninsular – where they all lived – is a long thin piece of land which stretches north near Derry. It’s one of those places which might well be an island – a place apart and close-knit. All week, we watched the funerals and read the statements from grieving parents – and the priest who said to young people, ‘Remember that you are not immortal’ They were impressive to the point of heroic – but there is something unutterably painful about the sight of gentle country people in a place like this – slightly uncomfortable in the formality of unaccustomed suits – dealing with their grief so publicly and with such dignity.