Cards and candles turn school into a shrine as pupils mourn crash victims

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The Independent Online

The deaths of five Irish girls in Monday's horrific road accident have turned the picturesque grounds of a Co Meath convent school into a vale of tears.

The deaths of five Irish girls in Monday's horrific road accident have turned the picturesque grounds of a Co Meath convent school into a vale of tears.

Hundreds of pupils drifted through the grounds of Loreto Convent, which four of the five dead girls attended. But instead of lively chatter there was mostly silence yesterday, broken occasionally by sobs.

The school in the small town of Navan suspended all classes, but most of the pupils turned up to cling together for mutual consolation and express their shock and incomprehension. Counsellors and psychologists were on hand to help deal with the trauma.

The five girls died on Monday afternoon when a school bus carrying 51 pupils home from several Navan schools was involved in an accident with two cars. The bus rolled on to its side, injuring almost all of its passengers.

A local police sergeant described the accident scene as "mayhem," a senior officer saying: "I've never seen anything so horrific." Many parents were on the scene within minutes after survivors rang home on their mobile phones.

The stretch of road is not known to be dangerous. There were roadworks nearby, with temporary traffic lights in operation.

Some pupils were initially on the critical list but yesterday all those still in hospital were in a stable condition. The cause of the crash remains unclear. The drivers of all three vehicles are in hospital, with police waiting to interview them.

Seatbelts are not required on Irish school buses, and the bus involved had none. A parents' group has called for a change in the law to make their installation compulsory. Three inquiries into the crash are being established, one of them headed by a former senior police officer.

The pupils from different schools mingled on the bus, and it was mere chance that four of the five fatalities were Loreto girls. Most of the serious casualties were at the back of the vehicle.One girl may have survived because she got on late, having forgotten her schoolbag, and remained at the front.

The four Loreto girls were described by Sister Mary O'Connor, a member of the board of trustees of St Michael's Loreto Convent. Claire Cluskey, 18, was "a very bright student, bubbly and friendly". Deirdre Scanlon, 17, was "highly gifted, straight As, very good fun". Aimee McCabe, who at 15 was a class captain, had "great leadership qualities, she was a great organiser". Lisa Callan, 13, was "a lovely looking girl with long blonde hair, full of life and energy". She played bass guitar and wanted to be an architect. Yesterday their friends and fellow-pupils brought flowers and penny candles, building up an impromptu memorial outside the school reception. One card said: "Dear Deirdre - forever in our hearts." Another read: "God has five more angels."

"They're devastated," said Sister O'Connor. "They're coming to talk to one another to try to put some understanding on what has happened."

A mother whose two children survived the crash said: "They're trying to cope with the fact that people they were talking to five minutes earlier are dead."

The girls and townspeople attended a mass of remembrance in a packed chapel before walking sombrely back to their school.

In the afternoon the Bishop of Meath, Dr Michael Smith, arrived at the school, promising that pupils and staff would receive full support. But he added: "Any parent that can't welcome home their daughter any more, that won't come in the door any more, what can you say? There are no real words that can take away that pain."

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