Residents in rural Irish communities threatened by a rise in home invasions and burglaries have resorted to buying and storing guns as a means of protection.

A man from Toomeline, Doon in County Limerick collapsed and died after a botched burglary last week. John O’Donoghue, 62, returned to his home on Thursday afternoon to find two thieves who had just ransacked his home.

The Irish Examiner reports that two men from the Traveller community in Limerick City were arrested and are currently being held at Henry Street Garda station. A third man is still at large. 

Pat Ryan, a 53-year-old bus driver who lives close to the O’Donoghue home, said he keeps a licensed shotgun under his bed, and said he knows of many others in the community who have resorted to keeping a gun at home.

“I was broken into five years ago and two of my licensed guns and jewelry were taken. I now keep a gun – which is licensed – under the beds with cartridges beside,” he said.

“And I would be prepared to use it if necessary. I’d have no qualms; it's gone to that now. Most houses around here have firearms now and the people sleep with a gun beside their bed at night. I always have my gun beside me in the bedroom with the shells beside it. Most people now around have guns at the ready, due to all these break-ins over the past few years. There has been a spate of break-ins. The house belonging to the priest was done two times in the space of a few weeks.”

“When it happened to us, we were just away from the house for a few hours,” he said.

“It was very upsetting to think strangers had broken into your house. It’s not a nice feeling. But that’s the way it’s gone. These guys seem to be getting away with everything. It looks that way to me. The garda station was closed with the cutbacks and we are under Bruff Garda station now which is 45 minutes away. We once had our own garda, Jerry Connors. He was always walking about and his presence gave people a sense of security which is now gone.”

The garda who arrested the two men after the burglary had to use his own car to get to the scene. He chased the men on foot across fields and the suspects were arrested a short time later.

Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Niall Collins said it was unacceptable that a policeman had to resort to using his own private automobile to answer the urgent call.

“Doon, as we know, is one of the 140 locations around the country where garda stations were closed. By closing these stations, communities like Doon were deprived of a garda presence. When you have a garda presence in a community, that presence also acts as a deterrent factor,” he said.

Many communities are now “living in fear and feel isolated and vulnerable to criminals,” said Collins.

“Unfortunately, our current laws are not a deterrent and Fianna Fáil wants to see tougher sentences in place in a bid to crack down on the surge in burglaries in both urban and rural areas. The government’s deeply flawed policy of closing rural Garda stations, such as in Doon, has been disastrous.”

Collins said too many criminals who are convicted of burglary are being put right back on the streets with suspended sentences.

Read more: Local priests say rural Ireland suffering as communities die off