Revealed: Elderly afraid to sleep at night after brutal attacks
Vulnerable older people using anti-anxiety medication as they live in fear of violent burglaries
Pensioners are resorting to a range of anxiety medications and sleeping tablets because of fears of aggravated attacks in the run-up to Christmas.
It has also emerged that some older people are staying up all night, and instead are sleeping during the day, following a spate of burglaries in recent weeks.
Many also feel under round-the-clock threat and are buying high-spec CCTV systems for protection.
Others have alarms that can be triggered by infra-red motion sensors.
The killing of Limerick woman Rosie Hanrahan, who was found murdered in her terraced home last week, has renewed focus on the vulnerability of older people.
Separately, last Monday, Joseph Waters, a bachelor, was sitting at his kitchen table in his rural bungalow in the Kildangan area of Durrow, Co Offaly, when three masked men broke in to steal his life savings.
The retired farmer was pinned to the floor, beaten with sticks and threatened with a knife.
Mrs Hanrahan (78), a widow, was physically frail, while Mr Waters (77) is visually impaired.
Offaly County Councillor John Leahy says many people living in isolated rural areas are now using medication to help them sleep at night.
"The gangs are carrying out scoping exercises on potential victims before they attack.
"When a dog barks in a farmer's yard in an isolated area at night, elderly folk fear the worst. That's the reality.
"People are putting in extra security measures such as bolts and locks on their bedroom door.
"They are also resorting to specially installed lighting."
Mr Leahy, leader of Renua Ireland, says tougher penalties are now needed for repeat offenders, as well as the establishment of a "dedicated" Garda division to tackle the gangs "at source".
"People with elderly parents are also hugely concerned, and they want to know what's going to be done to stop these attacks."
Meanwhile, Diarmuid Cronin, community alert development officer for Cork, Kerry and Limerick, said the introduction of "severe sentences" for certain offenders is badly needed.
"Some older people are now changing their living patterns. Individuals are staying up all night. They don't want to go to sleep out of fear," he said. "It just shows the level of unease out there - that people feel it is safer to stay awake all night and snatch some sleep during the day.
"There are also people keeping a shotgun in the room with them at night.
"We are talking about a generation who have grown up with a shotgun to hand at all times during the day and night.
"A lot of people are talking about getting CCTV and smaller, more discreet, cameras for their home.
"Many of the perpetrators are out on bail when they carry out these raids. Electronic tagging needs to be used."
In November, bachelor farmer Richie McKelvey (54), who lived alone in the family home with his dog as his only companion in an isolated area near Birr, was brutally attacked.
In the early hours of the morning, a four-member gang smashed their way into the house and stormed into his bedroom. He was pulled from his bed and attacked.
They also grabbed the dog and, according to locals, gave it an "unmerciful beating".
While senior Garda sources say the recent spate of attacks do not constitute a crime epidemic, there is a growing sense of fear among the elderly and frail, particularly in isolated areas.
They fear the possibility of assault by suspected gangs who specialise in targeting vulnerable victims in rural Ireland.
And there is at least one gang at large in the Midlands who have no compunction about using extreme violence on their victims.