Limerick's 'Bull' leads fight against rural decline

John Hayes speaks at Building Rural Communities - Lessons from the World of Sport event

Donal O'Regan


Donal O'Regan

Limerick's 'Bull' leads fight against rural decline

John Hayes, Michael Ryan, Anna May McHugh, Padraig Giblin and Fr Eamonn Fitzgibbon, organiser of Building Rural Communities conference Picture: Press 22

WHEN John Hayes speaks, people listen as he is not one to waste words.

“The Bull” was one of those to address the audience at a conference entitled Building Rural Communities - Lessons from the World of Sport, organised by Fr Eamonn Fitzgibbon, Patrickswell.

The head of the Institute for Pastoral Studies at MIC, St. Patrick’s College, Thurles Campus, said that the example given by speakers was very clear – “There’s no boundaries to what can be achieved if we work together and put our minds to it”.

Fr Fitzgibbon described John Hayes as a “rural leader” at last week’s event in Thurles.

“He told us about his special part of the world, Cappamore, the ‘show’ there and its impact, as well as the success of his first rugby club Bruff, in another rural area.

“The enthusiasm and energy in the room was infectious and the big message that was taken away from it was the need to do things for ourselves and that it all starts by bringing people, young and old, generational parishioners and newcomers, together. 

“What starts with a casual chat in a meeting room or out on a walk with community members can result in something very special. The conference was a study in the endless possibilities of communities that are willing to try new things,” said Fr Fitzgibbon.

John said there is a lot of great things happening in rural communities but what this event has proven is the need for communities to work together closely and try do new things. 

“It is happening right around the country and we just need more of it. If you think of the Cappamore Show, locally it’s just called ‘The Show’; it’s something many people come back to Cappamore each year for and I know that in Tipperary now, for example, they have the Dualla Show, which started not that long ago but is a success.

“We just have to give people opportunities to come together in rural Ireland,” said John.

The challenges to rural Ireland are really serious and building a sense of community is key, said Fr Fitzgibbon.

“We need to think smarter and be more innovative going forward if we are to revitalise badly hit areas of rural Ireland. To that end, there are many lessons to be learned from sport,” said Fr Fitzgibbon.

The size of the attendance proved that people are concerned about rural Ireland and want to work at rejuvenating it and making it as dynamic and sustainable as they know it can be, he said. 

“We had people from Limerick, Waterford, Kerry, the west coast of Clare, Galway, even Co Louth. 

“The one thing they all came with was a desire to hear from rural leaders about the type of thinking and approach required to make a difference in challenged communities,” said the priest

What does that say? It says that people care and that’s a brilliant start,” he added.

Other speakers included Tipperary’s All-Ireland winning hurling manager Michael Ryan and Anna May McHugh, synonymous with the National Ploughing Championships. 

Due to the success of the conference, Fr Fitzgibbon said they certainly can’t close the door on the possibility of having it elsewhere.

“​It takes quite an amount of organising but the fact is that there appears to be a real appetite for this type of event,” he said.