The fascinating story of Donegal's most famous chain begins with Patrick (or Paddy) “The Cope” Gallagher, the shops founder. Born in 1873 in Cleendra, in the west Donegal parish of Templecrone, Paddy began his work life as a farm labourer at a young age. He then, like many others at the time, moved to Scotland where he found work as a potato picker. It was a hard life for young Gallagher and it was this work, with its long hours and poor pay, he was later to say, that inspired him to found a co-operative movement, a business model he had seen first in Scotland, back home in County Donegal.
He took his first step in business by selling fertilizers. This was successful and he began branching out with other farming supplies. Soon he was doing so much trade that he needed to open a base to work from, which became the first Cope store in 1906. There is an old story that says the name arose from the ability of one of the original committee to pronounce “Co-Op”. This committee, apparently was but a “dim body in the background”, the business venture was Paddy’s own. The Chain was a great success and now has branches all over West Donegal selling everything from groceries to sportswear to furniture to hardware supplies. Quite a range!
Affectionately called “The Boss” by his friends he was known as a very gentle and easy-going man. His daughter-in-law on an RTE Radio feature, recalled his dedication to his business: “It was his last thought at night and his first thought in the morning.”
Paddy died in 1966 but not before he could tell his story through his autobiography, published in 1939, called Patrick Gallagher: My Story. He was the grandfather of today’s Fianna Fail politician of the same name, Pat “the Cope” Gallagher. In 2006, in celebration of the Copes one hundred years in business, Paddy was featured on a 48c Irish stamp. Today his legacy lives on as The Cope supermarkets are synonymous with the west Donegal area. A thriving community business, The Cope employs in excess of 100 locally based employees. Their commitment to the Cope Community Trust embraces an ethos of supporting the community in which they operate.