China’s new leader a pure gentleman, says farmer

When farmer James Lynch shared an Irish coffee earlier this year with China’s new leader, Xi Jinping, he thought that he was a "pure gentleman".

He hasn’t changed his mind and, if anything, he is even more impressed with the man named last week as the new head of the Chinese Communist Party and the First Citizen of a nation of almost 1.5 billion people.

Though arguably the most powerful man on the planet, he is also very down-to-earth, as James and his family discovered last February when they invited the then vice president to their farm in Cappagh, Sixmilebridge, Co Clare.

Mr Xi, who was on a three-day visit to Ireland, is from a rural background and has a keen interest in farming development. He tramped through the pastures to see at firsthand James’s and his wife Maura’s herd of Friesian dairy cows and beef cattle.

"He was very knowledgeable and very interested in learning more about how Ireland produces high quality milk and beef," said Mr Lynch. "He even went to see the silage and wanted to know when it grew and when it was cut."

That came as no surprise to him. As vice-chairman of Dairygold Co-op, he went to China this time last year with an Irish agricultural trade mission. "We were in the Great Hall of The People in Beijing where Mr Xi’s appointment was announced. I heard it on the news and I was absolutely delighted. I think he will not only be good for China but good for Ireland as well.

"I was there on a fact-finding mission and what really impressed me was the scale of the country and the massive opportunity there is for Irish food producers who can offer the Chinese first class products. Since his visit here, the Chinese Ambassador has been in touch and I have met with a number of delegations from China.

"Mr Xi’s appointment will open avenues for us, I am sure, and it just shows the good work being done by Bord Bia and the food industry in Ireland."

It wasn’t all business during Mr Xi’s farm visit last February, as the Lynch family were anxious for him to experience Irish hospitality. A family man himself, he chatted easily with James and Maura and James’s mother, Ann, and met the couple’s three children, James, 5, Olive, 3 and one year-old Ronan. "He was very much at ease with us, chatting with my mother and he even drank an Irish coffee. He came across as a very friendly and modest man and an extremely courteous one."

The crowing glory of the meeting was when Mr Xi was shown a newborn calf named after him. "It arrived just in the nick of time," said James.

Conversation was casual and good humoured. "I know more about my calves than my children," he told Mr Xi, who responded: "that’s because they grow up together".

As for the bovine Xi Jinping, James is happy to report that, like his famous counterpart in China, he is thriving.