Macra reaches out to those in rural isolation

While many associate rural isolation with older age groups, young people can also be badly affected by this growing malaise, according to Macra na Feirme’s incoming Leinster Vice-President, Cara O’Mahony.

“They can be working on the farm 24/7 and may not get to see anyone all week,” said O’Mahony, a founding member of Naas Macra in January 2014.

Poor infrastructure; a lack of public transport; and financial constraints all can contribute to this sense of rural isolation, which can lead to mental health issues, she said.

The lack of job opportunities in rural Ireland is forcing many to leave their localities in search of employment when some would prefer to remain at home, O’Mahony, a primary school teacher, said.

“I see it in my own school where there are 37 teachers, many from rural backgrounds. They can’t get jobs at home,” she said.

At a time when people are said to be more connected than ever through social media, the problems of isolation and loneliness are giving rise to serious concern.

People can get very depressed when they are not seeing and interacting with other people.

“There are a lot of stereotypes out there, with many of them coming from the generation before us. It’s up to this generation to change that stigma,” said O’Mahony. “When I was canvassing, one of the recurring issues was mental health,” she said.

“Every year the Rural Youth Committee that I’m currently chairperson of gets involved in the Green Ribbon Campaign.

“We send out hundreds of green ribbons to clubs across the country every May. We ask people to wear the ribbon to encourage them to start the conversation on mental illness and to promote positive mental health in their clubs.”

rural isolation

“I will be asking clubs to run the ‘safeTalk’ initiative run by the HSE. This alertness training is like emergency First Aid for mental health,” she said.

“People often don’t recognise the signs of depression themselves. We need to get the message across that it’s okay to talk about your feelings.”

With its rural youth committees and vibrant programme of social events; public speaking; and leadership, Macra is perfectly poised to offer people support and a voice, she said.

“I know of people whose lives have been turned around by joining Macra. Getting involved gives them a sense of place. It allows them to build up their confidence and to feel valued.

While there have been rumblings about Macra moving away from its agricultural roots, O’Mahony whose father, Jim O’Mahony, was Head of Horticulture and Tillage at Teagasc, Kildalton and Oak Park, countered the criticism, stating that Macra is an inclusive organisation. It’s not just for farmers, she said.

“Initially it was all about agriculture, and it still is the only organisation that speaks on behalf of young farmers. It has a fantastic agricultural affairs committee led by James Barber from Laois.

“However, Macra offers such great opportunities that it can’t be exclusive to young farmers. Everyone needs to get involved. Macra is open to people from all different backgrounds and careers.”

Macra has three branches in Dublin, Treble R in Rathmines, Rathgar and Ranelagh; Hill 16; and North County. Efforts are underway to establish another in Lucan, according to O’Mahony. People new to Ireland are under-represented but are welcome to join, she said.

Due to take up her role on May 6, O’Mahony would like to see greater interaction between the Leinster clubs and counties.

“The north-west and Munster have fantastic interaction between the regions, but Leinster is so spread out, from Louth to Wexford, that it has been difficult. I would like to bring the National Council representatives together to support each other.”

The newly-elected Macra President, James Healy, hit the headlines for reportedly saying that the organisation is the unofficial dating agency of rural Ireland and that there is no need for dating site Tinder when you can join Macra.

O’Mahony concurs with his views. And what about her personal experiences? “I’ve had my fair share,” she laughed. “I haven’t given up hope yet.”