Being a country girl Síle Seoige, feels a strong connection to the Know Your Neighbour promotion, as she tells Rita de Brun

Splendid isolation isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In the UK it has certainly lost its allure. Here at home, neighbours are increasingly remaining strangers, with 71% of Irish adults agreeing that our sense of community is not what it once was and 20% of those living in rural areas admitting that they don’t know who lives next to them.

That’s a trend we’d like to change. To ensure it does, Calor and Macra na Feirme have launched a Know your Neighbour promotion and placed broadcaster, writer and yogi, Síle Seoige at the helm.

“As a country girl I feel a strong connection with this campaign,” says the Spiddal native. “All of us can feel isolated, even those who live in apartment blocks. It’s possible to come home and feel physically disconnected, or in other ways completely alone.”

Has she ever felt that way herself? “I have experienced a type of loneliness in my own life,” she says. In doing so, she’s merely expressing a universal truth. But her words, coming as they do from a beautiful, talented and popular lady, are all the more powerful and likely to encourage others to get out there and do what they can to dissolve the scourge that lonesomeness can be.

“We can reach out via text and email or WhatsApp and Facebook messages, but nothing beats human interaction. Nothing beats looking into somebody’s eyes over a cup of tea and asking how they really are.”

She’s right, of course. We never truly know what’s happening in the lives of our neighbours, what’s going on in their heads and behind their closed doors. When we reach out through the medium of technology and leave it there, there can — even after the most lengthy and repeated communications — be oceans between us, in the form of despair unaddressed, truths left unsaid and help not sought.

As for those who might for mental health or other reasons, have difficulty in getting out of the house to mingle with neighbours, Seoige says: “These are often the ones who are hoping that someone else will take the initiative and come calling on them.”

New campaign urges people to avoid social isolation and talk to their neighbours

Seoige grew up with a strong sense of community and understands better than most the dynamics of country life. Her dad was the local garda in her village and her mum was the playschool teacher.

“Our family was part and parcel of the community, one that always came together for mass on Sundays.”

Often in remote areas, neighbours have a superficial knowledge of the goings on in one another’s lives. For many that’s comforting. For others it’s suffocating. Seoige falls somewhere in between.

“Part of me loves that sort of craic and parts of me are adverse to or at least allergic to it. But our family is lucky in that we still have the same family home that my dad built when I was about 3 years of age, and our neighbours of old are still our neighbours today.”

Does that sense of continuity heighten her sense of security and of belonging? “It does. If you don’t know where you come from, how can you feel a connection to anywhere? If you are not grounded, if there is no feeling of having roots, it must be harder to go out into the world and explore. There would always be a feeling of being at sea.”

It’s a topic about which she clearly feels passionate: “We all need to hang onto the good stuff, the simple stuff. We need to hold onto where we are from, to our accents. That’s what grounds us and what helps us to stay authentic and real. When people don’t have a strong sense of who they are, there’s a sort of melting into one.”

Seoige says that through social media we portray an illusion of ourselves, when it should be the opposite: “It should be about authenticity; about who we are, warts and all.

“We post images of ourselves, often through flattering filters. I am guilty of that myself. People don’t want to hear when we are not having a good day. For young people this warping and distorting of their true lives is damaging.

“I love social media. It’s a fabulous tool. But it can be incredibly seductive and addictive. Once you are on your smartphone you are not present and not aware. This is dangerous and it’s happening all the time.

“We are becoming more engaged with our online personas and more disengaged with the reality around us. As a result, we Irish who are so well liked for our friendly craic and banter, are feeling disconnected from those who live beside us.”

Seoige advocates putting our phones down, going next door or further down the road, and calling in to see our neighbours. “We need to do that in a nice way; not in any annoying or intrusive way. I’m not suggesting a national Brady Bunch situation. But we do need to ask ourselves if we know who’s living next door; and if so whether we really know who they are.”

For ideas about how to organise an event log onto www.knowyourneighbour.ie. Organiser packs contain posters, t-shirts, and balloons to help make your event a success.


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