CELEBRATION turned to tragedy on Sunday when 53-year-old Ballymoney woman Shirley McCauley died following a road traffic collision which happened on her way home from church where a significant anniversary was being marked that day.
The mother-of-four, originally from America, was travelling along the Frosses Road near Ballymoney around 1.30pm after attending a service at Cloughmills Reformed Presbyterian Church which, every year on the first Sunday in December, remembers the setting up of the church in that week back in 1995.
Mrs McCauley, who worked at Dalriada School in Ballymoney, lived at Knockhill Park in the town.
Her family, all in their 20s had grown up, and she dedicated much of her life to church work. She was due to have travelled back to Cloughmills on Sunday for an Evening Service.
But instead the congregation gathered with elders for a prayer meeting as Minister, Rev. Peter Jemphrey, was at the Causeway Hospital in Coleraine to help comfort the McCauley family.
Mrs McCauley was pre-deceased, by around 20 years, by her husband Trevor who was a Minister in the Reformed Presbyterian Church and had worked in areas including Dervock.
She had four children - Gillian and Peter who both live in Belfast; Jeremy who lives in London and Cameron who lived at home.
Cameron was travelling in the car with his mother at the time of the accident but was not seriously injured.
Rev Jemphrey told the Ballymoney Times the congregation was stunned at the events of Sunday.
He said: "Shirley was a very committed member of our Fellowship, very much part of the family of believers. The scene is very unreal for us all. She was travelling home with her son Cameron after attending our worship. We are just very shocked.
"We are all feeling it very deeply. We are a close fellowship of believers and we know she is with the Lord in Heaven but it is the suddenness of leaving her family, it is a great blow."
Paying tribute to Mrs McCauley, Rev Jemphrey said she was a great servant in their church and she participated in many areas like the youth club since joining the church at its inception in 1995.
Fifteen years ago she had been a member of the Reformed Church in Ballymoney but when she heard that two families were setting up the Cloughmills Church she joined.
Rev. Jemphrey said the church in Cloughmills was set up 15 years ago on the first Sunday in December and on Sunday past they marked that anniversary as they always do.
The church now has 20 families with 60 members and most were present on Sunday morning for worship.
Rev. Jemphrey said it was hard to take in that a short time after she left the congregation that the road collision involving Shirley occurred.
He added: "Shirley was always at the Evening Service too but on Sunday I went to the hospital in Coleraine and the elders held a prayer meeting."
The churchman said Shirley always wanted to help out people in whatever way she could and she was "totally committed" to the church.
On Monday, Rev Jemphrey said a funeral service will be held for Shirley later this week at Cloughmills Reformed Presbyterian Church at Drumbare Road with interment in the church burial plot but the exact details were not available at that stage.
He said the Fellowship was thankful Cameron was not seriously injured in the collision.
Sadness was felt across the Ballymoney area and beyond not least at Dalriada School where Mrs McCauley was a popular member of staff.
She worked as a secretary at the school since May 10, 2004, and her children attended the school.
Dalriada Headmaster Tom Skelton told the Times: "She was much more than a school secretary, She was really involved in every thing at the Prep Department. She will be really sadly missed. Shirley set very high standards and was planning the Christmas Fair this week which has been called off."
A special Assembly was held on Monday which was not only attended by Prep pupils but pupils at the Grammar School who had attended the Prep.
The collision involved a silver Vauxhall Astra car that was travelling towards Coleraine and a red Dodge Calibre that was travelling in the opposite direction shortly before 1.30pm on Sunday afternoon.
Mrs McCauley was a passenger in the Vauxhall.
Police believe that a third car was in the area at the time and the occupants may have witnessed the collision without realising the severity.
Police are appealing for the occupants of that vehicle to come forward and anyone with information can contact police on 08456008000.
Inspector David Anderson of Ballymoney PSNI offered his sympathy to Mrs McCauley's family
He added: "This is another tragic loss of life on a road which has claimed a number of lives in the last few years."
POLITICIANS have passed on their sympathy following the death of 53-year-old Shirley McCauley who died after a road traffic collision near Ballymoney on Sunday.
Ballymoney Mayor, Ulster Unionist Bill Kennedy, said: "This is an absolutely heart-wrenching tragedy especially at this time of year. The Frosses Road has an appalling history of tragedies. My sympathies go out to the family of Shirley McCauley and her wider family circle. It is terrible that this happened and so close to Christmas."
North Antrim DUP MLA Mervyn Storey has expressed his condolence to the family of Mrs McCauley.
Commenting the DUP MLA said: "Yet another family has been plunged into sorrow and a young women has tragically lost her life. It is particularly sad that this accident occurred just hours after police and road service were warning motorists to be cautious on Sunday as icy conditions were affecting roads across Northern Ireland.
"The A26 this week has been particularly affected by the snow, and the wintry conditions. Earlier on this week the road almost came to a standstill as it was in a treacherous condition and was indeed closed for a time on Sunday to remove a lorry that had crashed. While I appreciate the challenging conditions that Road Service personnel have to contend with, it is imperative that this arterial route continues to be treated and that every care is taken by us all when using the roads over this server period of weather.
"It is imperative that we all as road users pay more attention to the road conditions in this weather and that we give more time for our journeys. The Minister for Roads Service must also ensure that all available resources are at the disposal of his staff to deal with these conditions."
North Antrim Sinn Fin MLA Daith McKay has called on members of the public to be cautious when driving over the coming week in freezing conditions.
Mr McKay said: "The thoughts and prayers of everyone in the community are with the family of Shirley McCauley. Clearly the treacherous conditions which roads are in across the north is contributing to the number of accidents on the roads over the past week.
"The Frosses is one of Ireland's most dangerous roads with over 20 deaths in the past 20 years. Whilst the forthcoming dualling of the road from Glarryford to the Drones Road is to be welcomed we still believe that the entire road should be dualled from Ballymena to Coleraine, especially the stretch between Ballymoney and Ballymena where this accident occurred.
"As local people know this accident was the latest in a series of fatal accidents along this stretch of road and more must be done to ensure that the number of accidents occurring here is reduced significantly."
Two North Antrim Ulster Unionists, Robin Swann and Rev Dr Robert Coulter MLA, have called on the community to remember in their prayers Shirley McCauley and her family circle.
Mr Swann is a UUP North Antrim Assembly candidate and Constituency Chairman, while Rev Dr Coulter MBE is the Ulster Unionist Party Assembly member for North Antrim and UUP Stormont Commissioner.
In a joint statement, the pair said: "We extend our personal sympathies to the family circle at their terrible loss, and pray for a speedy recovery of those injured.
"No words can describe the heartbreak and devastation which the family circle is suffering. We, therefore, appeal to all our North Antrim constituents to rally round."
And Mr Swann and Assemblyman Coulter added that the Stormont minister responsible for roads must make the dualling of the controversial A26 at The Frosses "a top of the list priority before this accident death trap claims even more lives".
They added: "There is now the very real danger if the roads minister does not make The Frosses section an urgent priority, that it could become Northern Ireland's most notorious death trap.
"We all hope and pray the minister will make a firm announcement to prioritise the actual dualling of this A26 accident blackspot as soon as possible," said Assemblyman Dr Coulter and Mr Swann.
SDLP North Antrim MLA Declan O'Loan has said the local community was shaken by the tragedy.
Mr O'Loan said: "I would like to express my deepest sympathy to Shirley McCauley's family, her friends and the school community at Dalriada who must be devastated at her death.
"The roads are truly treacherous at the present time and I urge people to be extra careful when making journeys in these dangerously icy conditions."