Speaking to The Irish Catholic, Killaloe’s Bishop Fintan Monahan, who was ordained in Ennis’s Cathedral of Ss Peter and Paul on Sunday, September 25, said that among his priorities as a new bishop would be doing whatever he could to enhance and support the quality of rural life.
“There’s a deep sense of loneliness among people in remote rural areas like in Clare,” he said, noting how reduced numbers of clergy – along with reductions in Garda numbers and a reluctance among GPs to set up practices in rural communities – were contributing to this sense of isolation.
Health Minister Simon Harris has said the State must consider paying GPs to work in rural Ireland, since private practices may not be viable in such areas.
The bishop also expressed concerns about a growing sense of an East-West socio-economic divide in Ireland, with the West not sharing in recent gains made in the East.
Even now, though, Dr Monahan said, overstretched rural clergy were playing a valuable part in maintaining community life.
“You see some of the elderly clergy keeping things together when you have clusters of four parishes cared for by maybe three priests,” he said.
The bishop’s comments come against the backdrop of this year’s The Irish Examiner-ICSMA Farming Poll, which found that almost a quarter of Ireland’s farm-dwelling adults have felt lonely or isolated.
The survey, conducted by Behaviour & Attitudes at seven agricultural shows over a three-week period between August and September, found that 23% of respondents said they felt lonely or isolated.
Isolation was most frequently felt among those aged between 55 to 64, with 33% of those in that group having experienced a sense of isolation.
The poll also suggested that Mass attendance may have risen among Ireland’s farming community, with 69% of the surveyed farm-dwelling adults attending Mass on a weekly basis, a figure 7% higher than that found last year.