SADNESS and shock has replaced normal Christmas cheer in a west Mayo community following the tragic deaths of two young men in a drowning tragedy.
Both men, who were in their late twenties and were from the Carrowniskey area near Louisburgh, drowned in the early hour of this morning after their jeep entered a swollen, icy, river.
A third person, also from the Carrowniskey area, managed to escape from the stricken SUV as it submerged and he raised the alarm.
All three were on their way home when the accident occurred in a remote area.
Darkness was closing in around 4 p.m. today by the time the bodies were located by garda divers.
They were not in the jeep which was all but totally submerged.
Local people in silent vigil on the nearby laneway watched from a distance throughout the morning and early afternoon as the efforts to locate the bodies continued.
When the bodies were not in the jeep as anticipated fears grew that they might have been washed into the nearby Atlantic.
Their bodies were eventually discovered at a downstream location and, following community prayers, were removed by a local undertaker to Mayo University Hospital in Castlebar where post mortem examination will be carried out tomorrow (Tuesday).
The survivor of the tragedy is said to be shaken by his ordeal and the loss of his close friends, but he was otherwise unharmed.
One neighbour at the search scene praised the teenager for managing to get out of the sinking vehicle and raise the alarm.
The fact that the remains of his two pals weren't in the jeep when it was searched by a garda dive team today suggests they also may have managed to escape the vehicle but were swep downstream by a powerful current.
Despite the darkness of the night and the inclemency of the weather locals turned out in large numbers to assist gardai, fire service personnel and the Irish Coasguard in the major rescue operation.
Garda Supt. Joe Doherty, who attended the search scene, praised the unselfish and heroic work of civilians in trying to rescue the missing men.
Councillor Christy Hyland, a Westport-based member of Mayo County Council, said: "The whole community is numbed with shock. These young lads were in the prime of their lives, a great loss to their families and parish."