Dorothy Keane had remained composed and articulate as she recounted how the quiet, content lives of herself and her husband had been shattered by the arrival of wind turbines into their peaceful rural idyll in Co Roscommon.
It culminated in the couple quitting the home they had bought for their retirement years. But towards the end of her story, she broke down in tears. “Our lives were turned upside down,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking to see what was to be our retirement home now abandoned, neglected, overgrown and unsold.”
Dorothy and her husband Michael were both speaking at the launch of the latest national political group, the Protect Rural Ireland organisation.
Its electoral strategy is simple – to target any TDs or candidates who support (or who have not openly decried) the construction of wind farms across Ireland. And they intend to come out with all guns blazing; at the launch in Buswell’s Hotel yesterday, arrivals were handed sample ‘Vote Out!’ leaflets.
These will be deployed in constituencies featuring an initial six TDs: Environment Minister Alan Kelly (Tipperary), Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan (Laois), Communications Minister Alex White (Dublin Rathdown), Labour’s Emmet Stagg (Kildare North)and Fine Gael deputies Marcella Corcoran Kennedy (Offaly) and Bernard Durkan (Kildare North).
“We want to unseat them,” declared the group’s chairman, Henry Fingleton, who said the threat to rural heartland industries from the planned construction of up to 2,000 more wind turbines “has been ignored – at every opportunity they alienate us, push us to one side, try to walk over us”.
The group had lined up some expert speakers, such as Dr Christopher Hanning, an international sleep disorder specialist. He presented research which showed that turbines positioned at a distance of up to 1.5km away can “adversely affect sleep”.
Ann Mulcrone, a former inspector with An Bord Pleanála, said she believed “we’re at a crossroads in relation to the rural landscape”. Ann, who has notched up 35 years’ experience as a town planner, added that a current application for a wind farm in north Meath was for 46 wind turbines, each of which would be 170 metres in height. “It’s difficult to comprehend the scale of that – we can compare it to Liberty Hall, which is 60 metres,” she explained.
There were facts and figures galore, but it was Dorothy and Michael Keane’s story which really caught the attention of the room.
They moved to their dream home in 2004. “It was facing a beautiful hill, we had ancient ring-forts beside us,” said Dorothy. They knew there was planning permission to build turbines, “but the worst we thought that could happen was that we’d have to look at them for the rest of our lives”.
However, after the turbines were constructed in 2011, “as soon as they started to spin, we realised we had a big problem with the noise”.
The Keanes noticed they developed problems with sleeping, concentration and low energy levels, and both experienced “pressure in the ears and chest”.
Eventually in January 2013, they sought medical help.
“The only advice the GP could give us was to leave our home, remove ourselves from the problem. He said he was from Mayo and he knew about the problems caused by the noise from wind farms. We were devastated.”
After sticking it out for the rest of the year, and seeking further medical advice, they moved out in December 2013.
Michael also spoke of their ordeal. “We’re not ‘nimbys’, we’re not moaners or whingers,” he said. “The wind farm operators don’t own our country. We own our country. We will not stand by.”
The Government argues that wind turbines are safe, that they save money and create jobs and benefit both local and national coffers.
But rural power of a different kind is gearing up for battle.