A 26-year-old Donegal man has been sentenced to four years in prison with the last two years suspended for dangerous driving causing the deaths of eight men.

Shaun Kelly of Hill Road, Ballymagan, Buncrana has also been disqualified from driving for ten years.

He pleaded guilty last July to the charge, which relates to a crash on 11 July 2010 between Clonmany and Buncrana in Co Donegal.

On the night, Kelly was driving a Volkswagen Passat which collided with a car travelling in the opposite direction driven by Hugh Friel, a 66-year-old man on his way home from bingo.

As a result of the crash Mr Friel and seven young men who were travelling in the car with Kelly were all killed.

They were: Eamonn McDaid, 22, of Ballymagan, Buncrana; Mark McLaughlin, 21, of Ballinahone, Fahan; Paul Doherty, 19, of Ardagh, Ballyliffin; Ciaran Sweeney 19, of Ballyliffin; PJ McLaughlin, 21, of Rockstown, Burnfoot; James McEleney, 23, of Meenaduff, Clonmany and Damien McLaughlin, 21, of Umricam, Buncrana.

Alex Owens, SC for the State, told Letterkenny Circuit Court this morning that the maximum sentence for the offence is ten years and disqualification from driving for any period up to life.

Judge John O'Hagan said: "It's at times like this it's difficult to be a judge.

"The tragedy that unfolded here is horrific, consequences and reverberations are insurmountable and beyond belief. It was a terrible terrible tragedy," he said.

Judge O'Hagan said he must point out something very important to the bereaved families.

He said that tragic as this case is, it is not for him to take revenge on Mr Kelly.

"I will punish him for what he did but I will not take revenge," he said. 

Victim impact statements were heard from the families of the dead men, while Liam Kelly, father of the convicted man, also addressed the court.

Mr Friel's brother, Anthony Friel, told the court that no words can describe how he feels at the loss of his brother.

He said he and his brother took great pride in their farm but he could not bring himself to work on it any more and his world has been turned upside down.

He said he feels anger and cannot sleep and is on medication.

He also told the court that he had planned to take his own life a number of times.

Eamonn Sweeney, whose son Ciaran was killed in the crash, said no words could describe how much his family misses him and there is a void that can never be filled.

However, he said that Ciaran had gotten into Kelly's car willingly and it is unfair that Kelly be left to take all the blame.

Mr Sweeney said that nothing will ever compensate his family for the loss of Ciaran but Kelly needs all the help and support he can get and not punishment.

Enough lives have been ruined, he said, and it would make it harder for them if Kelly was sent to jail and it is not what Ciaran would want.

Mr Owens read a brief note to court from Mark McLaughlin's mother who said that she could not write a victim impact statement because nothing can describe what it is like to lose a child.

The court heard earlier that Mr McLaughlin's father had died tragically in 2013 on the anniversary of his son's death.

Damien McLaughlin's sister Kate said that her family's hearts had been broken and their lives changed forever. She described her brother as a quiet man of few words with a radiant smile.

He is our first thought every morning, she said, and our last thought at night.

PJ McLaughlin's sister Aoife said that her family have a full life sentence and they are now facing their fifth Christmas without him.

PJ should be celebrating his 26th birthday in January, she said.

He had an electric personality and was the brightest and quickest member of the family - the go-to man in their house, with his future all planned out.

He was smart, funny, reliable and ambitious and they miss him every day, she said.

Ms McLaughlin said that the way the defence ran the case had made it much more difficult for them.

Time and time again the case was put back, she said, and there was a feeling of dread before every court date, more heartbreak and resentment.

James McEleney's brother Robert described his family's loss as absolute devastation - their lives were torn apart, he said, and as time passes the pain gets no easier.

He described how they suffered sleepless nights, could not eat and just functioned to get through the day – "it’s almost like a nightmare we can’t waken from", he said.

Paul Doherty's father Felix said no words could describe their loss and the legal process will bring them no closure. Kelly is already serving a life sentence, he said.

Seamus McDaid, whose son Eamonn died in the crash, said the family were devastated but Kelly cannot be forgotten.

He said Eamonn was a very good friend of Shaun's and said: "I wouldn't like him and his family to suffer any more."

Liam Kelly apologises to families of victims

Kelly's father Liam told the court that he, Shaun and their family are deeply sorry for what happened and apologise to all the families and everyone who was traumatised by the crash. 

Mr Kelly addressed the court, because, he said, his son was not capable of addressing the court adequately. "If I could turn back the clock, I would," he said.

Mr Kelly that some time before the accident Shaun came to him and said he was thinking of going to America to work because of the downturn but he persuaded him to stay and help him in his business. 

He said he feels great responsibility for not letting him go, if he had gone then this accident would not have happened, he said. 

Mr Kelly said his family thanked all the families of those who had died from the bottom of their hearts for being so good to them. 

He said he was very sorry for the pain they are suffering, they are all friends and relations of ours, he said.

"We have never heard a harsh word from any of them, despite their loss," Mr Kelly said.

He said his son Shaun had suffered a severe brain injury in the accident and will never be the same person again - he struggles daily with the trauma and will have to deal with the trauma for the rest of his life, he said.

Court hears details of events leading to crash

The court heard this morning that on the night of the fatal crash, Kelly and his friends had been watching the World Cup final in the High Stool Bar in Clonmany.

Mr Owens said that after the match they all packed into Kelly's Volkswagen Passat and "sped out" of the town at high speed. 

They did not use the seat belts and Mr Owens said they were found to be buckled down under the front passenger and driver's seats.

They were travelling towards Buncrana when about 5.5km outside Clonmany they hit a car driven by Ann Gilloway. 

Ms Gilloway had passed Mr Friel's car before the impact and she described in her statement to gardaí how she saw a big black car coming towards her "terrible fast" and it came over the white line onto her side of the road. 

She said there was a loud bang and she realised her car had been hit.

Mr Owens said Kelly lost control of his car completely on the wrong side of the road and the passenger side of his car collided with Mr Friel's Toyota Corolla and pushed his car about 18 metres backward. 

Mr Friel died instantly, as did the seven passengers in the car with Kelly. 

Garda Sergeant Carol Doherty was one of the first people on the scene after the crash and described it as one of devastation.

She said it was immediately obvious that there were fatalities.

She said that Kelly was unconscious and the fire service cut the roof off the car to get him out quickly and take him to hospital in Letterkenny.

Sgt Doherty said Kelly was sitting on the seatbelt.

She told the court that Kelly and his friends were in high spirits when they left Clonmany and there was a smell of burning rubber as the car left the town at around 10.30pm.

The car was seen to straddle the white line as he drove away and witnesses said he was driving very fast.

Sgt Doherty said that Kelly was a lorry driver prior to the accident, driving for his father's company.

He had two previous convictions, one prior to the accident and one after it.

He was convicted of dangerous driving on 26 June 2007 at Lisfannon, Co Donegal when he attempted to pass a car on a blind bend and almost hit a garda patrol car.

The second conviction was after the accident in May 2012 when he was convicted of driving a lorry without a rear number plate.