It was the Police Service of Northern Ireland's (PSNI) single biggest loss of life since it was formed seven years ago when four policemen died after the jeep they were traveling in crashed on a lonely road in Co. Down last weekend.

Eyewitnesses, including other police officers, were unable to rescue the four men from the burning vehicle because its doors and windows were bullet proof.

The four policemen who died were Kevin Gorman, Declan Greene, Kenny Irvine and James Magee. They were all from the local area.

However, even in their tragic deaths the policemen showed the changing face of Northern Ireland. Two were Catholic and two were Protestant.

Two were members of their local GAA clubs while another was a member of his local Orange lodge.

Gorman, 24, had just recently become a father to a baby girl. He played Gaelic football for St. Colman's GAC in his home village of Drumaness.

He had only recently graduated from training college, but the threat of being killed by dissident Republicans meant that only close family and friends were aware that he had joined the PSNI.

It is the second tragedy to hit the family of part-time officer Declan Greene. In 2002 three generations of his family - his uncle, cousin and second cousin - were drowned in a fishing tragedy when their boat sank off the south Down coast.

Greene and Irvine worked together in a local aerospace factory during the day and then as part time police officers together at night.

Irvine was married with one daughter. He was a member of his local Orange lodge in Kilkeel.

Andrea and Kenny Irvine had been due to celebrate their fourth wedding anniversary on Wednesday, but instead the heartbroken wife will now be forced to watch as her husband is laid to rest.

On Sunday a GAA game due to be held at Declan Greene's local GAA club was cancelled as a mark of respect for the dead. It is thought to be the first time in Northern Ireland that a GAA match has been cancelled in honor of a policeman.

While their deaths are being seen as a tragedy, the shared sorrow across both traditions is being seen as sign of hope.

First Minister Peter Robinson said he was "devastated" by the loss of four people who had served their community. "The people of Northern Ireland as a whole are in mourning," he said.

"These were officers out doing their duty. It is devastating for their families and our thoughts and prayers are with the families at this time."

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said a series of weekend accidents, in which three other people also lost their lives were "truly shocking."

"Seven people have lost their lives. The incident in which the four young policemen were killed was truly terrible and terrible for their families" he said.