MEATHMAN'S DIARY: A day forever etched in our lives

There has been a great deal of anxiety - naturally enough – in recent weeks over the Leaving Certificate examinations and whether they would go ahead or not this year, as the world deals with Covid-19. And of course, our young people need certainty where exams and their futures are concerned.

But to put some perspective on the problem, let us go back to 15 years ago this week, and to 23rd May 2005. Many of you will instantly recognise that date. Monday 23rd May 2005 is a date which will be forever etched in the lives of the people of Navan and Meath, when we lost five of our brightest secondary school students in one of the worst tragedies this county – and country - has ever seen.

It was a showery summer schoolday which had started off like any other, the Monday of a week at the end of May when schools were beginning to wind down, with Junior and Leaving Certificate students preparing to do their exams. But at 4.30 that evening, as teenagers from St Michael’s Loreto Convent, St Joseph’s Mercy Secondary School, Beaufort College and St Patrick’s Classical School made their way home from their respective academies, disaster struck close to Casey’s Cross on the Kentstown Road.

A school bus carrying youngsters towards Beauparc, Yellow Furze and Kentstown, crashed and overturned into a ditch. Even now, having been there at Our Lady’s Hospital that evening, reading that week’s edition of the Meath Chronicle is harrowing, brings tears to the eyes.

The pages tell of how parents began to gather at the crash scene as word spread of the collision, the distressing scenes as they tried to establish what had happened, where their children were, whether they were gone to Navan or Drogheda hospitals, and the anguish when they learned there had been fatalities.

The critically injured were brought to Drogheda; the ‘walking wounded’ to Navan, and sadly, the deceased as well. For some hours, families waited at Navan hospital, waiting for word of their sons and daughters, hoping that if their child wasn’t being treated in one hospital, they may be in the other.

Stories of children who had stayed at home to study, and should have been on the bus, of some who could have got a lift but went on the bus, some who had gone in for just one class or gone home early because of sickness, were all being mulled over.

The arrival of government ministers highlighted the seriousness of the situation – Mary Hanafin, the education minister, defence minister, Willie O’Dea, in charge of the Government Emergency Planning Taskforce, local communications minister, Noel Dempsey, while the Minister for Transport, Martin Cullen, withdrew from a European conference in Moscow.

Just before 8pm that evening, the first of five families to lose a daughter began the long walk from the emergency department to the morgue, as they began the grim task of identifying the bodies of their precious girls.

This summer, if you can, take a trip by Casey’s Cross, and the stone monument on which is inscribed the names of Clare McCluskey, Aimee McCabe, Lisa Callan, Deirdre Scanlon, and Sinead Ledwidge, and think of them and their families. And all of those students in Navan who experienced a trauma of such a gigantic scale in 2005.

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