Ballina Councilors Mary Kelly and Peter Clarke with Mayor Daniel Bianchi at the reception at City Hall on Friday. Brian Litscher and Andy Kelly, in the back, provided musical entertainment.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The city welcomed representatives from Sister City Ballina, Ireland, on Friday afternoon at City Hall.
"You don't do a reception for international visitors too often," said Pat Gormley of the Pittsfield Sister City Commission in thanking City Hall staff in setting up the event. "It's just like local visitors except that we sing more and have a good time."
Ballina Councilors Mary Kelly and Peter Clarke and Town Engineer Orla Bourke were greeted by a small crowd sporting green and serenaded by Sheila McKenna, Brian Litscher, John Kulpo and Andy Kelly. The event was livestreamed by PCTV and will be rebroadcast on Sunday.
The three Ballina residents also will join Pittsfielders marching in the Albany, N.Y., St. Patrick's Day parade on Saturday.
Mayor Daniel Bianchi presented the guests with keys to the city and it was reciprocated with gifts ranging from smoked salmon (that Clarke claimed to "have caught last week") to CDs and prints, and a book on "Irish Wedding and Funeral Customs, which prompted the mayor to laugh "Hopefully, we won't need this too soon."
The Pittsfield Sister City Commission also presented the guests with a framed print of snow Park Square from 1912 to remember the city by and they were given DVDs of a Pittsfield performance by the Moffat School of Irish Dancing from Mayo County.
Bianchi had more in mind than exchanging gifts and culture — rather, he thought it was time for the Sister Cities to consider a possible business exchange.
Kelly, former mayor of Ballina, agreed.
"I like your idea of perhaps on an economic level; our timing might not be the best in that we're in the worst eocnomic recession," she said, but noted Coca-Cola and another large U.S. company are headquarted in the County Mayo city. "I think it would be very interesting of we compiled a list of the various businesses and maybe have an exchange trip dealing with that."
Her late father was very involved in the "twinning" with Pittsfield, feeling they were both market towns that could connect.
"I think that's such a tremendous idea," responded Bianchi. "Much of what we make in Massachusetts and Western Massachusetts, Berkshire County is exported. I think it would be a great idea and initiative to make sure we are taking the greatest advantage of our relationship beyond cultural."
It was the first trip for Clarke and Bourke, but Kelly is practically a resident.
"I feel very much a part of Pittsfield here in that this is my 14th trip to Pittsfield," she said. "I absolutely love it here. I've been here sometimes two or three times a year and that should tell you something.
"It's the friendship and the links that have formed and never died it."
The visitors encouraged Pittsfield residents to consider coming to Ballina in August for its events during The Gathering, a yearlong celebration of Irish culture and history.
Clarke encouraged the city's Irish to search the roots. His late father, Jackie Clarke, collected more than a 100,000 documents related to Irish history that are now being archived in the Jackie Clarke Collection in Ballina that can be a resource for genealogists.
"This is what my father done all his life — helped the Irish diaspora abroad," said Clarke, adding that he and his mother were interviewed about the collection for a story to appear in Sunday's New York Times
"We yet again are reaching out to the Irish community in Pittsfield to come to home to Ballina, to celebrate the Gathering, to meet old friends, to look up your family tree or just experience the Irish weclome you'll receive in Ballina."