Rural crime: 'Elderly are so scared they're leaving home'
The death of carpenter John O'Donoghue, who collapsed after confronting intruders at his County Limerick home, has left many of his elderly neighbours living in fear.
The popular 62-year-old bachelor suffered a massive heart attack when he returned home with his sister on the afternoon of August 27 to find it was being ransacked.
Later this week, his family will be joined by friends and neighbours for John's Month's Mind Mass in the tranquil East Limerick village of Doon on the Tipperary border.
The death has cast a shadow over this close-knit community where people look out for each other.
"Since that incident elderly people living alone in this area are feeling very, very nervous and insecure," says Father Tony Ryan, who administered the last rites to John at the scene.
"Every time the doorbell rings they hesitate (before answering) and they just worry who is there… they no longer feel protected and it is a dreadful worry."
Mr O'Donoghue's death has had a "dreadful effect" on his siblings, particularly his sister Christina who was with her brother when he died, according to Fr Ryan. The family declined to be interviewed.
Fr Ryan told mourners at the funeral that he hoped politicians would increase the number of gardaí in rural Ireland in order to reassure those living alone.
He also said he believed the former parishioner did not die in vain because "there is a growing awareness of the need to watch out and look out for each other".
Since the incident, the members of the community have been trying to reassure the vulnerable and the afraid.
"I am working with the community and we are trying to re-energise our community alert to assure the people living alone that we care for them and we are looking out for them," he explains.
Locals here agree with the general consensus of other victims of rural crime who have spoken to the Irish Independent that garda cutbacks and a lack of personnel are largely to blame for the upsurge in crime.
They say that in 2008 there were two sergeants and 10 gardai assigned to cover a geographical area between Murroe, Pallasgreen, Oola and Doon. Today that number has dropped by more than 50pc to one sergeant and four gardaí. The nearest garda station is 20 miles away in Bruff.
"The gardaí have a great relationship with the community but they don't have the men on the ground to respond and that is why people are afraid," says local postman Paul Ryan.
In his role as chairman of the Community Council in Doon, Mr Ryan is in the process of reactivating the community alert in the area.
"We are in the process of getting the text alert system up and running again in conjunction with a number of other neighbouring areas," he reveals.
"As part of the new system we want to supply personal alarms to elderly people who are living alone in the area because panic buttons are much more effective."
And according to the chairperson of the local Voluntary Housing Committee, elderly people who are worried about crime are increasingly seeking refuge in the relative safety of the village.
"People are in fear and dread at the moment and we see more of our elderly are anxious to come into the village to live in the voluntary housing that we provide so they can feel safe," said Patsy Coffey.
"But people are looking out for each a lot more because we are isolated out here in the east of the county."
The committee currently own 16 houses in Doon which were grant-aided by the Department of Environment. Last week, a lady in her 80s who had been living alone became the latest tenant to seek refuge.
"It is a little community for them in the village and they help each other - it's safety for them rather than being left alone out the country," Patsy said.
Fr Ryan describes the closure of the local garda station as a "serious loss" to the village which in recent years also lost its public library and the bank.
"Up to a few years ago we had a garda in the village who walked the street and knew everyone and everything that was going on but unfortunately that is no longer the case. We would love to see a garda on the beat again."