Canadian Cathy finds her tribe in ICA

Cathy Curlette moved to Galway 30 years ago with her late husband Ed. Encouraged to join the Gort guild of the Irish Countrywomen’s Association, the retired businesswoman has become a key member of the association, locally and at county level. Now president of the Galway Federation, she tells JUDY MURPHY about the Inca importance to women and the broader community and why new blood is needed.

An organisation that helped shape modern Ireland by giving woman a voice, nurturing their skills, and also through its involvement in schemes such as rural electrification, is now seeking new, younger members.

“Our age profile has gotten older,” explains the very youthful Cathy Curlette, current President of the Galway Federation of the Irish Countrywomen’s Association (ICA).

The ICA remains active locally and nationally, with more than 6,000 members, but “the big challenge is drawing in younger women. We need young ideas and different ideas”, says Canadian-born Cathy.

The traditional image of the ICA as an organisation made up of countrywomen – mostly farmer’s wives– has changed through the decades as Ireland has become more urbanised.

Cathy exemplifies that change.

She and her late husband Ed moved to Ireland from Canada 30 years ago.

After Ed had recovered from an illness, the couple retired from the business they ran together and decided to relocate.

Gort became their home and the many friends Cathy has made there have been with her through thick and thin.

They were especially important during Ed’s illness, when she was his carer, and then when he died, 10 years ago.

“Those few years were tough,” Cathy says, “but I had good friends and good neighbours because of the ICA.”

The Curlettes’ move to Ireland came about by chance.

In their younger years, they had holidayed widely, including in England and Scotland, where Cathy’ s mother was born. They’d also been to Indonesia where their son lived and to Mexico to visit their daughter.

But they’d never been to Ireland – until someone suggested it as a retirement possibility.

“Our criteria for settling somewhere was that it would be somewhere we could speak the language and where we could play golf,” Cathy explains.

So, in the month of October, more than 30 years ago, they embarked on a research trip here.  Still in Canada, they mapped out a driving route that included just about every one of the 32 counties.

That changed on arrival, as “we hadn’t factored in the roads”.

They reduced their ambitions, but Galway remained on their agenda because Cathy had sung Galway Bay in primary school and wanted to see it. Their first experience was memorable.

“We drove into Galway and I’ve never seen rain like it,” she recalls. “The wipers couldn’t cope.”

But they were delighted with their hotel, the recently refurbished Park House. Then, braving the rain, they walked down town.

Less than an hour later, sitting in a pub over a hot drink, they decided to retire to Galway.

Up to then, they’d been enjoying their Irish trip, but hadn’t been smitten with anywhere. Galway was different.

“There was a vibe,” says Cathy.

After renting in the city for a period, they settled in Gort, because of golf. Salthill had a long waiting list but Gort, a club they also liked, didn’t.

Pictured: Federation President of Galway ICA, Cathy Curlette, is grateful to the organisation for helping her forge great friendships.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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