Changing colours and cups of coffee

Máirtín Ó Catháin looks at issues affecting county Galway and the west of Ireland

The White Mountains of New Hampshire are aflame this week. Trees of fiery orange and red entwined in a mix of russet and chocolate brown. The year is changing colours as the fall envelops the north east of America. “America is about to change colours politically as well,” says Theodore (Ted ) S Sares, who now lives in the ‘Granite State’. He is a business consultant and also describes himself as a private investor. He would admit in a colourful burst of laughter that he is a millionaire, but he was a bigger millionaire before the financial crisis struck. Ted Sares could strike once too — and he could put together a one/two combination in the ring. He was a useful amateur light heavyweight with 130 contests under his belt. And he once closed the Digital Corporation business in Galway.

It’s a memory he’d prefer to forget, but it was his job. He was a senior manager for Digital across the world. “They were nice people and good people in Galway but the business was not viable. But I think we gave a fair severance deal.” It was 1991 and it’s history. Ted Sares is now talking about new history.

Will America elect a black president? “I think so. I hope that the older generations follow the lead that is being given by the young in this country.” Sares believes America is ready for a big change of political colours and even a quick glance at the ‘blue’ and ‘red’ states points to a fall for the Republican Party as the trees change colours in 2008. From the outset it was clear that John McCain was under pressure in many of the states where George W Bush won out in 2004. On the other hand, it was equally clear that Barack Obama was holding strong in the states where the Democrats won four years ago. But we are depending on opinion polls. And as those who are behind in the opinion polls always say — the real poll is on election day. But maybe there are better and more colourful ways of working out who will win the election. How about cups of strong black coffee?

Counting cups of coffee

The supermarket chain 7-Eleven has been selling cups of coffee ‘assigned’ to the different candidates in recent presidential elections in different parts of America. The McCain and Obama cups of coffee went on sale over the past 10 days. You just go in and order your coffee in either an Obama or McCain cup. The early results from the coffee cups are as follows: Obama 59 per cent; McCain 41 per cent. Is there any sense to this type of ‘poll’? Well, coming up to the 2000 election George W Bush was one per cent ahead of Al Gore in the coffee cups. However, coming up to the 2004 election George W Bush was well ahead of John Kerry (the Democrat ) in the coffee cups. Now is there sense to the coffee cup politics?

Now we were always good at reading the tea leaves in the west of Ireland and I was thinking that strong ‘tay’ would be a good way of getting a read on upcoming elections in Galway. For instance, you could have saucepans of ‘tay’ being sold for Noel Grealish — a good solid country lad by upbringing. Maybe we could have cups of coffee for Michael D Higgins, a more academic type of politician. Pints of milk could be sold for Paul Connaughton — a strong farmer. A mug of ‘tay’ would be alright for the others including Minister Éamon Ó Cuív. All right now — he is a city lad by birth and upbringing but he has now earned his stripes as a man of the hills and a drinker of strong black tea. And as the colour of leaves and politics and coffee mixed in the melting pot of America this week, Rural Affairs and Gaeltacht Minister Éamon Ó Cuív came across the Atlantic.

O’Cuív keeps colours flying in Maine

One of the Minister’s duties while in the United States over the past few days was the official reopening of the Irish Cultural Centre in Portland in the state of Maine. Portland is about the size of Galway and is 115 miles north of Boston. There are fiery red trees letting off their last blaze of colour in the shadows of St Dominic’s Church here in Portland just now. And the colours have changed many times since Irish emigrants came to this city in their thousands in the later years of the 19th century… and right up to 1950. The bulk off these emigrants to the state of Maine came from Galway and Connemara. Indeed, Minister Ó Cuív’s wife Áine (Concannon ) has many relatives — distanced by some generations now — in the Portland and Maine area.

The changing face and colours of America has changed Portland — and the time came when the Catholic Diocese decided that they would have to shut down and sell off St Dominic’s Church, the haven of the Irish in Portland for 150 years. But a group of the descendants of the Galway emigrants fought a battle over the past decade. They secured the ownership of St Dominic’s and have restored it at a cost of $1.5 million. They have developed it into an Irish cultural centre while keeping the church in its original form.

Maureen Coyne-Norris, whose forbears come from the island of Oileán Iarthach off the west Connemara coast, founded the committee and movement to save St Dominic’s. She describes it as a tribute to the Irish of old and a centre to keep the colours of Ireland vibrant in the state of Maine.

This week as the colours changed in the forests of Maine she — and many more who helped out — celebrated as Minister Éamon Ó Cuív cut the ribbon at St Dominic’s. Whatever the season, or the colour of politics in future years in America, it will stand sentinel and proud as a symbol of the struggles and success of west of Ireland emigrants.

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