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When Denver resident Kerri Tiernan picked up a copy of the Celtic Connection June, 2008, and read a story about the Niall Mellon Township Trust (NMTT), she had no idea how it would change so many lives, including hers.

The NMTT story began in 2002, when Irish Developer Niall Mellon began replacing the unhealthy substandard shacks lived in by impoverished families in the townships of South Africa with clean modern homes. Since then, Mellon’s charity has taught hundreds of township youth construction skills, and has recruited hundreds more volunteers to travel to South Africa for an annual “Building Blitz.” They have celebrated over 20,000 homes being built, which equates to 100,000 people now in new homes, and just finished building a school in Kenya in November.
Before volunteers are clear to join NMTT, they must raise between five and six thousand dollars. About $2,000 goes to logistical costs including flights, hotels, ground transportation, medical insurance, meals, construction kit, etc. and remaining goes to the building project.
Upon arrival to South Africa, the volunteers meet up with their assigned teams made up of a veteran construction forman and trades, project leader, and other volunteers. Volunteers are trained in construction skills to help them build a house over the next 7 days. During the course of the week teams eat breakfast at 6AM, board a bus at 7AM, and are onsite working from 8AM to 5PM.

Kerri was moved by the NMTT story that she read in 2008 and began making enquires to Ireland for details. By July of 2010, Kerri had inspired 3 more friends (Kathy McGee, Trish Nathan, Heidi Weidemueller) to commit to also volunteer and raise the needed funds for the project. In November of that same year the Colorado quartet became the first volunteer group from the States to go to South Africa for the Building Blitz.
“We hopped on the plane in Denver headed toward Cape Town, South Africa not knowing a sole,” recalled Tiernan. “We were met half way there in Heathrow Airport by several of the Irish Volunteers heading to South Africa as well….the amount of volunteers traveling overseas was very impressive to see as we landed at the airport in Cape Town to a large and warm welcome from the locals. Since that trip, our group has been back two more times and we are slated for our fourth trip this March!”

While “Team USA” was South Africa bound, Ann Walsh from Dublin was going through a similar rookie experience. “From the time I was a teenager I always tried to do some form of charitable work, but kids and work had taken over in recent years, and I needed a challenge. So, rather nervously I boarded a plane in November 2010 for Capetown, knowing no one, and hoping some poor Irish soul would take pity on me, and look after me for the few days! What I got, I never ever expected! By the time our plane landed in Capetown I had made friends like no others. I had heard of many stories and fables and tales of what the next seven days would entail – but as one chap said to me – ‘you really need to experience this week! Absolutely hard work, grueling heat, and times of complete exhaustion…. but do you mind? Absolutely not one fig!’ For in true Irish spirit, 700 Irish (and not so Irish) folks all working for the one aim, housing people and clearing the townships – can only lead to a sense of wonderment and fun.”
Walsh became Teirnan’s roommate and a member of Team USA. Now a 3 year veteran herself, Walsh recalled some of the wonderment and fun that has come to fruition. “Playing with the tots and kids that were running around barefoot on the building site, seeing the expression on people’s faces when they saw brand new houses rise where only townships once sat, and finally the day of the hand over ceremony, where we were honored to pass a set of house keys to the new owners and show them around their new home.”

Kathy McGee, also a 3 year veteran from Colorado shares Walsh’s appreciation for her fellow workers and their goal of bettering lives, and how her NMTT experience has shaped her perspective on life. “It is such an inspiration to meet people who have volunteered for the charity for 10 plus years. They are committed to improving the lives of others and they come back year after year to continue to help build.” She is also uplifted by the people living in the townships. “The people that live in shacks are so resilient. We do tours of the shacks and talk to the people who live there. Most have lived their entire lives in a shack and can only hope to move into a house with a lock on the front door and a working bathroom inside. In most townships the toilet is outside the house. It is an experience when the people you surround yourself with during the week make you realize what is really important in life.”

Coloradoan Trish Nathan, 2 year vet, said that she struggles for the right words to describe how her NMTT experiences have changed her life. “We all joke when we are in South Africa that ‘you just really can’t explain the experience.’ Honestly, that really sums it up! I have never considered myself a philanthropist, but when you are in a room with 600 volunteers who are AMAZING people, you really start to re-think what life is all about…This experience made me realize that you don’t need material things to make you happy, you just need to surround yourself with people you love and people who bring out the best qualities that you have inside you.”
Nathan also echoed the sentiments of McGee in regards to the residents of the townships, who give back to the volunteers in their own precious ways. “It really resonates when you see the smiles, laughter and love of these families who live in a shack; they clearly don’t have the luxuries that we have, but still manage to keep their chin up and enjoy life. They enjoy singing, dancing, and praying with each other – which makes you realize they may have the secret of a happy life figured out.”

Niall Mellon’s philosophy and the exceptional operational structure of NMTT fosters an environment that makes the workers feel safe and secure, and have some fun along the way. This has a lot to do with the success of the Charity and why volunteers want to return to help. “Everything we need to do our job is provided for.” Said Tiernan, “We work hard all day, but after work there are organized events to relax and get to know your team better.” Nathan adds her accolade to the founder and chief, “ Niall Mellon is an incredible man who has a vision of helping others that we should all admire. You may hear people say, it is hard to make a difference as one person, but Niall Mellon did.”

Certainly the adage ‘One person can make a difference’ can be applied to all the volunteers at NMTT. When Tiernan ‘picked up the ball’ and ran with it in Denver 5 years ago she definitely made a positive difference in many lives. But she deflects the individual praise and will tell you about the larger group effort. “The biggest item that I take away each year is a sense of pride that we are, in fact, changing families lives by providing them with housing and some of the most basic needs. On the final day of the Blitz, we meet the families that are moving into these homes and out of the horrible living conditions that we have seen in their shacks. That final day is one none of us will ever forget. That day is possible because of all of our family, friends, and coworkers supporting the cause. We are all very lucky that we work for companies that support volunteering and making the world a better place. My employer, Enterprise Holdings, LLC has supported the cause financially since I started many years ago and has let me host fundraisers with my employees along the way as well! I am always very grateful to receive their support and find they all want a full report of the trip upon my return which is pretty cool!”
“Besides all of that, I would have to say the biggest benefit to me as I continue to go back to Africa with this charity is that actual ‘Celtic Connection’ that it has given to me. I have made many friendships with my fellow Irish volunteers and the NMTT staff in Dublin that I know I will have for a lifetime. I wanted to thank the paper for that! Because of the article that was written in your paper over 5 years ago, I can truly say…In me, you have made a solid “Celtic Connection”.

(Kerri would love to see more volunteers from the States. If you would like to be a member of “Team America” or help with a donation, please go to: www.nmtownshiptrust.com)

December 13 CC Ambassador Anne Anderson w-Tom Burke and Muara Clare

(photo: L-R Thomas Burke, Ireland’s Ambassador to the U.S., Anne Anderson, Maura Clare)

Irish Network USA board members Thomas Burke and Maura Clare recently represented the IN Colorado chapter at a national board meeting in Washington, DC. The IN USA is a newly incorporated umbrella organization for the Irish Networks that exist around the country. The national entity aims to advance relationships between Irish Network state and regional chapters to foster success in business, economic and social ventures.
The weekend conference began on the evening of Friday, November 8 with a reception at the Irish Embassy hosted by Ireland’s recently appointed ambassador to the United States, Anne Anderson. The next two days of meetings included presentations and workshops on chapter and national organizational issues, membership recruitment, event planning and fundraising. Guest speakers presented on topics such as social networking, philanthropy, immigration and journalism. One of the most rewarding aspects of the gathering were the informal conversations, sharing of information and brainstorming between the Irish Network volunteers who came from all over the country at their own expense. In addition to Colorado, there are currently IN chapters in DC, Boston, Chicago, the Bay area, New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Phoenix, New Orleans, San Diego, Minnesota and Seattle, with more locations to be added in the coming year. http://irishnetworkco.com/

Denver Gaels Logo badge-large

(Denver Gaels introduce new logos)

by Sam Westmoreland — It’s been a busy month for the Denver Gaels, and things aren’t looking to slow down in December. November was headlined by the club’s Annual General Meeting, which featured plenty of changes for the club. First among them, the Gaels welcomed a brand new board.

Club chairman Tom Walsh will return for a second term, while Brian McCarthy takes over for Eamonn Ryan as vice chairman. Dermot Lynch replaces Nick Glassman as secretary, while Brian Arnold returns as treasurer. Here’s the full list of board members for the coming year:

Chair: Tom Walsh
Vice Chair: Brian McCarthy
Secretary: Dermot Lynch
Treasurer: Brian Arnold
PRO: Sam Westmoreland
Registrar: Nick Glasmann

General Committee Members:
Kyle Shane
Eamonn Ryan
Greg Phelan
Sarah Rhett
Dave Caughey
Kieran McCarthy
Katie Buckler

However, board members weren’t the only news from the meeting; the club is also pleased to unveil a new logo, which will be featured across the club’s website, Facebook page, Twitter feed, and all major club releases. The slick new design comes courtesy of member Adam Kiefert.

Finally, the club is prepping for a busy December. Indoor league rolls on through the month, and the club is prepping to celebrate Christmas. The annual Christmas party is scheduled for December 14th at the Celtic Tavern downtown. The party will provide good craic for the Irish community, and a chance to come together and celebrate the holiday season together. www.DenverGaels.com

Consulate General logo

Caption: Left to right: new Consul General of Ireland for the Western US, Philip Grant; Irish Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Leo Varadkar; Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland. This picture was taken at the United Irish Cultural Center in San Francisco at an event celebrating the re-opening of the direct Aer Lingus route between San Francisco and Dublin in April, 2014.

Consul General Philip Grant assumed duty as Consul General of Ireland to the Western United States, in San Francisco, on 30 September 2013. From Dublin, Philip has been a diplomat with the Irish Foreign Ministry since 1992. Prior to his appointment as Consul General, he was Spokesperson and Director for Press and Media Relations in the Foreign Ministry for four years. He worked on the visits of Queen Elizabeth and President Obama to Ireland, the Global Irish Economic Forum and Ireland’s EU Presidency. He was previously posted to the United States in 1994-1997, when he served as Vice-Consul at the Consulate in Chicago covering the mid-west and southern United States. From 2006-2009 he was Deputy Head of Mission at Ireland’s Embassy to Turkey in Ankara; and from 2002-2006 he was based in Israel, as Deputy Head of Mission at the Irish Embassy in Tel Aviv. Consul General Grant has also served in the Middle East and Anglo-Irish Sections of the Irish Foreign Ministry in Dublin, and at Ireland’s Mission to the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France. He is a Science graduate of Trinity College in Dublin. Philip will be aided in his work at the Consulate by new Vice Consul, Kevin Byrne. Kevin, a native of Dundalk in County Louth, is a graduate of Trinity College Dublin and the London School of Economics. A Naughton scholar, he has worked internationally for national government, the European Union and in the think tank sector. He joined the Department of Foreign Affairs in 2010. Most recently he was seconded to the Department of the Taoiseach to plan Ireland’s successful 7th Presidency of the EU.

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By Jim Remington – -

I lived for over a decade just outside of the small southern New England town of Narragansett. The town was named after the Algonquian Native American tribe that had inhabited that area when the colonists first settled there. The town is at the mouth of Narragansett Bay with a beautiful setting on the ocean and smooth white sand beaches. A great place to surf and generally frolic in the ocean. Across the bay is the more famous Newport, Rhode Island. But in the 1920s and 30s, Narragansett rivaled Newport as the mansion capital and home to the rich and famous. Many spectacular mansions dotted the shoreline north and south of Narragansett. It was the heyday of the “Gatsby” era and life was lived large and rich. Sadly, most of those mansions have disappeared. Hurricanes, fires, age and demolition have taken their toll. But the legacy exists up to the present and the few great mansions that are left keep those distant memories alive. And those memories are also kept alive in the minds of those who lived that life and the connections that continue to the present. And this is where my story really begins.
I was traveling in the west of Ireland in the Connemara Gaeltacht area of County Galway. I had settled into a B&B set just back from the ocean on a small country road with stone walls bordering each side and blooming fuchsia hanging profusely over the tops. It was a beautiful area and reminded me a bit of my home in southern New England. After dinner, I decided to take a walk down the lane and do a little exploring. Maybe find a pub with some music or just wander and soak it all up. There was still plenty of daylight so time wasn’t a factor. As I poked along I passed several dairy farms and was greeted warmly by the few locals I passed. Mostly farmers finishing up with chores. As I passed the gate leading to one farm a Border collie came out to give me an obligatory bark. I own Border collies so I recognized the “hello” nature of the bark. Just then a soft, tiny voice said “Don’t worry, he won’t bite”. There stood, just behind the low fence, a women well into her 90s with the sweetest smile and flood of totally white hair a bit out of kilter. The dog was immediately by her side and calm. I liked this woman at once and knew I wanted to talk with her. I greeted her with a “hello” and mentioned that I had a couple of Border collies back home. We formed the “Border collie bond” and talked the pros (too smart) and cons (too smart) of the wonderful breed. The conversation opened up from there and she asked me where I was from. I told her the states, with no more particulars. I noticed a somewhat sad, distant look come over her face. She then explained that she had lived in the states for several years but had to return to Ireland because of a sudden death in the family. She said that her time in the states was the most enjoyable time of her life and she wished she could have returned but it never happened. Continuing the conversation I asked where she had lived in America and what she had done. “Narragansett, Rhode Island” was her immediate reply. Yes, you could have knocked me over with a feather. “I live in Narragansett!” I replied. Tears welled in her eyes. It was like she was seeing a ghost and I suppose in her mind I was. I didn’t have to wait for her story. She had left Ireland in her late teens with a great excitement of living in America and escaping the poverty of rural Ireland in the 1920s. An aunt living in America had arranged a job as a maid in one of the Narragansett mansions. She loved the job and the people she worked with. The ocean reminded her of the best part of the Ireland she had left behind. She had met a young man (also from Ireland) and they had hoped to get married. Meanwhile, I felt like I was talking to the woman in the “Titanic movie” who created and communicated a vision of the past from her memory. She escorted me into a time and life I knew a little bit about but not the personal details. And what a wonderful “movie” she narrated. She told me about the splendid mansions and the incredibly extravagant parties, the amazing food and spirits, the music and the flapper dancing of the 20s. She told me of walks on the beach at Narragansett Pier with her beau and their dreams of a life in America. Tears trickled from her eyes as she talked. I believe the tears were part pleasure to remember the past and part sadness at the loss of her dreams. I was there to listen. I now would know and think of Narragansett in a very different way.
Eventually her story slowly came to an end and I knew it was time for me to head back to my B&B. Over an hour had passed and I had been transported to another time and another life. How wonderful was that. She opened the gate to hug and say goodbye and of course I gave the Border collie some well – deserved attention. What a wonderful and tender evening it had been. And another magical serendipitous moment in Ireland.

Jim Remington is a teacher and director at the Lakewood School of Music in Lakewood, CO. and lives with his wife, 2 horses and 2 dogs in the Wet Mountain Valley near Westcliffe, CO. Jim can be reached at: remingtonlj@gmail.com.

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