Ongoing demographic, social, economic and cultural changes point to the dynamic and continually changing contexts of rural areas in Ireland and Northern Ireland. However, the influence of such changes on the lives of older people remains under-explored, particularly the question of how older people perceive, connect to and engage in their communities. Drawing on interviews and focus groups with indigenous and non-indigenous older people in three case-study sites in Ireland, Northern Ireland and a cross-border region, this article presents a comparative analysis of how changing community contexts have shaped the lives of rural-dwelling older people. The analysis focuses on four key areas: economic structure and service access; social relations and social cohesion; meanings and attachments; and community engagement. While the findings demonstrate that some dimensions of participants' lives were affected by complex economic and social changes, others dimensions were connected in a more significant way to life course and residential history and the desire to maintain community capacity. (C) 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.