The unlikely Irish farming hero who staved off eviction by barricading himself on his land for more than a year has said he is giving hope to farmers who can see no way out of their crippling debts.
Séamus Sherlock opens about his David and Goliath-like battle in RTÉ flagship rural show Ear to the Ground to reveal how he is back farming his land after finally reaching an agreement with his bank to stay at his home.
Suicide crisis centre Pieta House told the new series of Ear to the Ground how financial pressures have been a factor among the rise in suicides in the agricultural community in recent years.
Mr Sherlock said he has been reaching out to distressed and suicidal farmers since he resolved his own financial difficulties with his bank in recent months.
He said: “If I can stop one person doing something drastic and taking their lives, well then my life has been worth it.
“In the last 12 months, we had about 2,000 people who have come into my kitchen. People have come into my kitchen and sat for five or six hours and literally fallen to pieces at the table.
“We put their lives back together and look at all their bills and break it down.
“A lot of guys need someone to care and to show them a small bit of hope. They are not looking for a miracle or a quick fix.
“You meet a guy with a stare of doom and gloom on his face and after you talk to him he actually smiles.”
Marguerite Kiely of Pieta House said there has been a rise in suicides among the agricultural community since the recession hit Ireland.
She said: “We certainly have seen, in Pieta House, an increase in suicides in the rural areas, especially within the agricultural sector.
“The recession has been a contributory factor towards that. The financial pressures are definitely becoming more evident.
“Families are more under strain and they are not accessing the services that we would like them to access because, very often, there is an awful shame and guilt associated, and a sense of failure in, accessing services like Pieta House for support.”
She said suicidal thoughts come to the fore, especially in men, when they become overwhelmed by financial pressures.
“Their whole identity can be enmeshed into the work that they do and the life they provide for their families, and when that goes pear-shaped they become overwhelmed by the burden of that.
“When a person becomes overwhelmed and thoughts of suicides maybe comes to the fore, the world can become very limited for them.
“By accessing a service like Pieta House we can open that up for them and be caring and compassionate in the difficulties they are experiencing.”
Mr Sherlock, a father of five, refused to leave his Appletown farm in Feoghanagh, Co Limerick, for a year after getting an eviction notice when he fell behind in repayments due to the downturn in his turfcutting business. He said he was hugely touched by the support he got from people all over the country when he erected a silage bail barricade at his farm.
He said: “There was people on the barricade, friends, relations — people I’ve never met before came from all over the country to help.
“There was at least three or four guys every night sat in a hut at the gate. They had their tea and sandwiches. The neighbours were fabulous, with people were dropping off food parcels every day.
“It gave a lot of people hope because there was a perception that the old Ireland was gone but I can assure you the old Ireland is alive and well.”
* Ear to the Ground will be shown tonight on RTÉ One at 8.30pm.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved