Case study: 'In half a century I've never seen it as bad'
MEET the Mulroy Gaels – one of Ireland's newest GAA football teams, which only came about because two clubs realised they no longer had sufficient players to field a minor team.
Half come from Fanad Gaels on the Fanad peninsula, the rest from Downings GAA club just over the Harry Blaney bridge – both proud and historic sides. The under-18s wear a neutral jersey to keep both sides happy, and all other teams in the clubs continue to battle each other on the pitch.
The reason for joining forces was simple, says Brendan McAteer of Fanad Gaels, owner of the Fanad Lodge pub.
"The numbers aren't there any more. They (Downings) hadn't the numbers and neither had we so it made sense to come together."
He says the amalgamation is yet another symptom of rural decline. One of the main employers in north Donegal is fish farming company Marine Harvest. Staff there are currently on a two-day week.
"I see it myself in the pub. Even the weekends are quiet now. We're a farming and fishing country but both industries are in decline.
"The young people are all heading away. So far that hasn't affected the senior teams but we just don't know. I'm 56 so I've been here more than half a century and I've never seen it as bad. Rural Ireland is dying."
Secretary of the Downings club, Hugo McClafferty, says they can't field an under-16 team this year – and they've lost five senior players to London clubs.
There's also a battle with the Department of Education over the potential loss of a teacher at the local national school due to a decline in pupil numbers.
"If we hadn't set up Mulroy Gaels there would have been no football at all for boys who you'd want in a couple of years for your reserves or senior team," he says.