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After over 30 years living in London, she and her husband Denis returned to Cork in 1993 to settle into retirement. Their three grown up children remained in Britain, where they were born and raised.

Like many others, she found herself at the sharp end of the property collapse. "Denis died in February 2007, and I put the place up for sale the following month. I was told afterwards that I was just six weeks too late in terms of selling. The market had just dried up." With no prospect of a sale, she settled back into life in rural Ireland.

Once a fortnight, she attends a Nike Zoom Celar 5 Running Spikes social club for two hours in the afternoon. Friends bring her on excursions sometimes at weekends.

Denis died five years ago and Mary found herself facing into a whole new life in her eighth decade.

She is 77 and lives alone outside a village in North Cork. The fear of one's home being violated by intruders hangs like a constant threat for people who are at the same station in life as Mary.

Talk to anybody who works in rural Ireland and the one initiative repeatedly cited is the Rural Transport Programme. This involves communities across the state setting up companies which tailor their services to the needs of people beyond the reach of public transport, or living in the more isolated outposts. The Bord Snip Nua report in 2009 recommended discontinuing the scheme.

go back to sleep."

One lifeline that Mary has is the local community bus. Every Friday at 9.50am, the bus collects her at her house and brings her to Mallow. Among the passengers will be several people she has got to know, and the journey serves as a social occasion in itself.

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gets enough provisions to do for the week. The easy access to convenience shopping is still a novelty in rural Ireland.

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Apart from the practicalities of living, rural isolation throws up the great bugbear of the human condition loneliness.

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She is fortunate to be gifted with a sense of initiative and an outgoing personality. Neither of those attributes are in plentiful supply across large swathes of the population of rural Ireland.

She is fortunate in that she doesn't dwell on the fear. "I feel quite safe here," she says. "A friend of mine, an ex garda, says that I should get a medal to stay here, but I'm just not a nervous type. Sometimes I do wake up and think I might hear something. I draw a breath and Nike Metcon 1 Orange Grey

Mary's experience of living in rural Ireland over the last 18 years typifies what thousands of others are going through.

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A slew of reasons are proffered for the slow death of the pub, including the smoking ban and new drinking laws. Whatever the reason, there is little doubt that the absence of the pub as the centre of socialising has left a large gap in rural Ireland.

Despite the absence of a pub, Mary has carved out a social life.

THE odd time, in the middle of the night, Mary Bowles thinks she might hear something downstairs. The fear grips her for a moment, but then she settled down, manages to fall back to sleep.

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All of the basics people take for granted in an urban area are fraught with problems for those in isolated areas, writes Michael Clifford in the first of a two part series

"I get into Mallow, get my pension, prescription and anything else I might need. I'm back home by two o'clock. The bus is great, but then you come home to an empty house."

Throughout her life, Mary has loved dancing, and she used to indulge her passion in a local hostelry on Monday nights. That has been shut for more than three months. In the last five years, an estimated 1,300 public house licences have not been renewed.

"I didn't drive, so that hit immediately," she says. Her first instinct was to sell her home and move to Mallow, where a few of her friends lived. The security of a town, with all its services and easy access to public transport, exercised a major pull on her.

There are 36 companies operating nationwide. Last year, the total number of journeys undertaken hit 1.4 million. For people like Mary, the initiative guarantees, at a minimum, a sunny day once a week.

Her most immediate problem was transport. The nearest village is a mile away. Her health remains robust, so she could walk Nike Zoom Flight 5

All the basics taken for granted in urban settings are weighed down with problems for many who still live out beyond the main catchment areas. Whether it is shopping for basic foodstuffs, accessing training or employment, socialising or even attending Mass, rural Ireland can be a hostile station, particularly for the elderly and the young.

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Likewise, the disappearing post offices. Their number across the state has collapsed from 1,900 to 1,100 over the past five years, and further losses will be inevitable if the social welfare contract with An Post is not renewed next year.

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"They're trying to marry me off every time I go out," she says, laughing.

"Oh, it's very important to me. The week would be very long without the bus," she says.

The fear of violation of the home is one of the most prevalent problems among those who feel isolated in rural Ireland, but it is not the only one. Rural isolation touches on practically every facet of life.

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Loneliness is thus a constant threat. "It's not great when you're coming home to an empty house, but you can't be down about it," says Mary. "There is no point."

Nike Zoom Celar 5 Running Spikes

Nike Zoom Celar 5 Running Spikes

One of the main problems support groups encounter is getting people to engage. A life spent in rural outposts can often leave the human condition with fixed ideas about privacy. Living without much human contact can also mean that the effort required to engage is all the more serious, and beyond the will of many.

In any event, the village does not provide the range of provisions required for a basic existence with a few home comforts.

Fighting the fear of living alone in the country

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in, and still does so on occasion. Returning home with a bag of shopping was a different matter. It just wasn't on.

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