Changes in law creates further rural isolation

THE pub was once the hub of social activity in rural Ireland. After working a long day on the farm many (mainly men) went to meet their peers and have a drink or two. However with the reduction in the drink driving limit many don’t venture out of their homes as they can no longer go to the pub and drive home after drinking.

THE pub was once the hub of social activity in rural Ireland. After working a long day on the farm many (mainly men) went to meet their peers and have a drink or two. However with the reduction in the drink driving limit many don’t venture out of their homes as they can no longer go to the pub and drive home after drinking.

The Samaritans have experienced a significant increase in the number of calls to their centre since the change in the law.

Last September the limit was reduced from 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood to 50 milligrams – which for most people is the equivalent of drinking less than one pint of beer.

“Rural isolation is definitely increasing. The level of rural suicides is increasing and the vast majority are males. Loneliness is a huge problem and many of our callers are widowed. There is a very steady flow of calls, especially in the evening time. The reduction in the drink driving limit is definitely an issue. Some of our callers tell us how their local pub has closed which was their lifeline. Without a doubt for some people living in isolated areas their local pub was their only means of social interaction. There are men who call us who haven’t spoken to a person in days. Communities need to go back to basics and to start and look out for each other. Before, the postman would stop for a chat but post has been reduced because of technology and postal staff are under more pressure these days. Some of our callers tell us that they haven’t spoken to anyone in days. Something as small and simple as to smile and say hello can make all the difference. It is not the solution but it is a start. There is a direct link between loneliness and suicide. Some callers are taking a chance and driving to the pub and having a few drinks but most feel that they have to choice but to stay at home. If they take a chance and get caught then they will lose their car and fell that they are completely cut off from society. Many of them find it difficult to go to the pub and have a cup of tea or a mineral so they stay at home. Before the introduction of the new legislation they felt that they could have two pints over the space of a night where now they cant. We have had a significant increase in callers from rural areas who feel alone and isolated. On average we can around 15 calls of this type every week,” said Gill Leo of the Kilkenny branch of The Samaritans.

Dick Walsh, who had the lease at The Rock Bar on the Freshford Road for 20 months until it closed last month, said that the change in legislation had led to a drop in customer numbers, which was one of the reasons he decided to close the bar.

“Traffic passing out to Freshford would normally stop after a match for a pint or two but the change in the laws has frightened people,” he said. He added that previously he had tried to offer his customers transport home but that necessitated that two people were working and with dwindling customer numbers that was no longer feasible. Mr Walsh added that while he was open seven night a week that some weeknights only one or two customers darkened his doors.

“Before the change in the law there were several people taking chances whereas they are not anymore,” he said, adding that the closure of the pub had created a sense of isolation in the community.

“Some of the people who used to come to the pub wouldn’t be talking to anyone apart from the people that they met there and now that has gone from him,” he added.

However, some pubs are providing free lifts home to their customers in an attempt to stop falling customer numbers. Iris O’Flynn and Frank O’Meara, who run The Cave Bar on the Castlecomer Road, bought two vehicles for that purpose when they took over the lease on the pub four years ago and drive their customers home free of charge every Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening and if possible on weeknights.

“I was working here before we took over the lease and I saw the potential that the pub could do better. We bought one of the vehicles and we got the other one on hire purchase. If we didn’t provide this service, people wouldn’t come. It is as simple as that. All regulars come mainly from Muckalee, Ballyfoyle, Conahy, Castlecomer, Kilkenny and Coon.

“Since the change in the drink driving legislation there are lots of our customers who would have come in during the week for one or two and then drive home but now they are staying in and only coming out at weekends. We are definitely doing less business since the change in the law,” said Ms O’Flynn.

Ray Houlihan, a customer in The Cave Bar, said he knew of people who were ‘isolated’. “In agriculture everything is delivery. The days of the creameries are gone and there are a lot of people who feel isolated a lot of the time,” he said.