Minister Heather Humphreys said a Debs celebration turned into a ‘worst nightmare’.
The deaths of two teenage girls in a Co Monaghan crash has brought “profound sadness and grief” to their school community, according to Largy College in Clones.
Three other people were taken to hospital, two of them in a critical condition, after the incident on the N54 Clones to Smithborough road at Legnakelly at around 6.45pm on Monday.
It is understood all five were occupants of the same car, with some travelling to a Debs event for students of Largy College.
Gardai said the bodies of the two girls, aged 16 and 17, were taken to Monaghan General Hospital, with post-mortem examinations due to take place on Tuesday.
An 18-year-old woman and the 60-year-old male driver of the car are in a critical condition in hospital, while an 18-year-old man is receiving treatment for non-life-threatening injuries.
The two 18-year-olds were taken to Cavan General Hospital for treatment, and the 60-year-old man was taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.
The road was closed overnight.
Principal Sharon Magennis has expressed “deepest sympathies” to the families and friends of the two girls killed in the crash.
In a statement, Ms Magennis said: “It is with profound sadness and grief that we have learned about the devastating accident that resulted in the untimely and tragic loss of two cherished members of our school community.
“We extend our deepest sympathies to the families and friends who have tragically lost loved ones.
“The other individuals involved in the accident also remain in our thoughts and prayers at this time.
“We extend our heartfelt gratitude to the emergency services and Gardai who responded swiftly to the incident.
“Our priority now is the wellbeing and welfare of the students, parents and staff at this difficult time.
“The Largy College Critical Incident Team has met to co-ordinate a response and to enact the Critical Incident Plan.
“We are grateful to the public for their deeply felt expression of support and ask that we be given the time and space to concentrate on supporting those in the school community who are most in need.”
Visiting Largy College on Tuesday, social protection minister Heather Humphreys said it was “a very sad day for Clones”.
“There’s a cloud over the town now and people just feel so upset and just numb by the tragedy that occurred last night.”
Ms Humphreys, who is from Co Monaghan, added: “It’s not easy because up in The Diamond, the children last night all got ready, the girls especially were in their dresses and they were all ready for a great night out and it all, unfortunately, ended in tragedy.”
She said she had met some of the staff of the school.
“It is every parent’s worst nightmare because nobody expects to get that phone call.
“One of the parents was on the football field last night and she got the call to go.
“It’s just the shock and to think that this could happen to any child. And I know that many parents across the country are thinking all our children going to Debs, they start off a night full of fun and joy and then it ends up in tragedy.
“My heart goes out to them and they are in all our thoughts and prayers.”
Local Sinn Fein councillor Pat Treanor expressed “sincere sympathy” to the families involved on behalf of the local community.
“Its an absolute horror that’s unfolding from yesterday evening, heartbreaking for everyone who lives in the area.”
Mr Treanor, who lives a mile away from the crash site, said he witnessed the Debs preparations.
Speaking to RTE’s Morning Ireland, he said: “When I was leaving work, I would have witnessed all of the young people gathering on The Diamond for their Debs, all excited, all getting the photos, meeting their friends.
“But then, about an hour later, there were helicopters in the air, there were sirens of ambulances, and the sad messages started coming through that there had been a serious accident out the Monaghan road out of Clones, and that went on all night really.”
He said there was a “numb silence waiting on the most traumatic news” within the community.
Speaking on the same programme, foreign affairs minister Sean Fleming said: “It’s the saddest news any family or any parents could ever receive, to see that their children were heading out, really on a rite of passage, and heading on hopefully to third-level education or employment in the immediate future, everything in front of them, and this tragic accident happened.
“It’s a shock, it’s a pain, the community will be strong, the community will stand together, they will support each other.
“But that loss will be with that family and that community for the rest of their lives.”
Sinn Fein TD Louise O’Reilly told RTE that the community will “rally around” affected families.
“But it’s absolutely heartbreaking, devastating news for their families, for their loved ones and for the community and for everyone in Monaghan,” she said.
Local councillor Richard Truell told the PA news agency: “It’s tragic, the community is shocked.
“We can’t get our heads around what’s happened because two young lives have been lost.
“Our thoughts and prayers have to go to their families.”
Cavan-Monaghan TD Matt Carthy said it was “horrendous, heart-wrenching” news and that the prayers of everyone in Co Monaghan are with the families affected.
“A moment of joy and celebration for these young people has turned into a lifetime of devastation for those who loved them,” he said on Twitter.