'There nearly aren't enough young men for the hurling team'
In the Clare village of Broadford, the crash left 'every second fellow driving a truck' without a job, writes Allison Bray
IT'S a rainy Thursday evening and Danny's Bar on the Main Street of Broadford is quiet and empty except for three middle-aged men quietly nursing their pints at the bar.
Adorning the walls of the turn-of-the-century Co Clare pub are framed newspaper cuttings and other memorabilia celebrating the local GAA club's hurling victories over the decades. During the boom years, the pub, run by local GAA chairman Danny Chaplin, was a mecca for the local hurling team and supporters as well as young couples working in nearby Limerick and Shannon who flocked to the pretty village set in the verdant Glenomra Valley as a safe and peaceful satellite community in which to raise their children.
But after five punishing years of recession, that has decimated jobs in the nearby cities, not to mention the surrounding towns and villages, the population of approximately 1,000 people has been cut in half.
People who could find work elsewhere have gone – leaving them with punishing mortgages on vacant houses because there is no one around to rent them. Even the local garda station closed last year, along with the post office until local residents, outraged by the loss of what they saw as a focal point of the community, successfully rallied to have it reinstated.
But residents fear it will close again as An Post contemplates further amalgamation of services, which local postmaster James O'Brien, 35, said would be a death blow to the village.
"On Fridays, close to 200 people collect their pension and social welfare cheques here and then they'll meet up and have a cup of tea. Even though young people don't use it, there's still enough business," he said.
Local resident and retired garda Liam Hayes, 63, who opened the Broadford Garda Station in January 1978 and worked there until his retirement in 2000, said its loss was a huge blow for a small village that has just two pubs, two shops and a post office.
Residents now must rely on gardai located in villages more than 15 kilometres away, leaving them feeling vulnerable and in fear of violent burglaries that have plagued similar rural areas. But the biggest loss is the sense that there's no one out there looking out for them.
"People like me built up great communication with the public. I knew everybody in the district but that's gone now," Liam said.
The local sand and gravel quarry was Broadford's largest employer, as was a former slate quarry that was the lifeblood of the parish before it closed almost a century ago. But it too became a victim of the property crash and closed, leaving "every second fellow who was driving a truck" without a job, according to Garry O'Shea, the local Rural Social Scheme Area Supervisor for the State's Tus community employment scheme.
The worst hit were the 19-to-29 age group who see no future here and have left en masse.
It's now reached the point where Danny fears there won't be enough young men left to line out for the hurling team after six members of the team all emigrated to New Zealand last month because there is no work for them at home.
And it's not just his team that Danny is worried about. The publican says he is barely breaking even now and wouldn't be able to continue without the help of his three sons, who work for free.
"Saturday night is the only night when it's busy if there's a match on," he said, adding he only opens now in the evenings because there just isn't anyone to serve during the day.
It's not just the young people in the village who are despondent about their prospects at home. With a local unemployment rate around 50pc, "most people are barely eking out a living", Garry added.
The Tus scheme allows people on Jobseekers Allowance a top-up for doing local work projects. Yet it's not the extra money that motivates them, but the desperate need for social interaction and doing something constructive, according to Garry.
He added: "They see it as something to get me out of the house instead of sitting at the window looking at the rain."
Local handyman and musician Seamus Walsh, 63, said young people have no other option but to leave the village to find work.
"There's no tradition of being unemployed here. People will either find something or pack their bags," he said.
But because the Tus scheme only runs for a year, participants often end up sitting at home, in many cases alone, when it ends, which is precisely the scenario that worries UCD sociologist Anne Cleary.
Speaking at an Irish Rural Link seminar on rural isolation in nearby Ennis the following day, Ms Cleary referred to her 2012 case study on suicidal men in rural areas in her discussion entitled 'Pain and Distress in Rural Areas'.
Citing the study of 26 men aged between 19 and 75 who have attempted to take their own lives, she spoke of the direct correlation between social and economic isolation and suicide.
"If you're unemployed, you are going to feel isolated and out of it," she said.
Indeed, her study found common elements among the men she studied, including marginal employment in farming or being unemployed or in "unstable employment" and being dependent on social welfare with few educational resources. They also tended to be either single, separated or otherwise not in a stable relationship and felt alone, she added. "They're all related to social exclusion," she said.
"Irish rural society is a very pleasant and enjoyable place in which to live, but there are economic and social issues that need to be addressed," she said.