Pittsfield Mayor Daniel Bianchi and Ballina Councilor Willie Nolan exchanged gifts from their respective cities.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Mayor Daniel Bianchi remembers visiting Ballina, Ireland, and the people helping him find his wife's ancestor's property. He remembers going from pub to pub meeting people and being treated like a king.
And he remembers knocking off the sideview mirror of his rental car when trying to navigate the narrow county roads.
The mayor fondly recalled the great time he had visiting Pittsfield's Sister City. And now he is returning the favor.
The city held a reception on Friday afternoon for three Ballina officials who are visiting as part of the Sister City program.
"The people are just absolutely lovely," Bianchi said of his visit to Ireland. "I feel, even in the short visit I was there, I have friends and family there for the rest of my life."
The city welcomed Ballina's former Mayor Willie Nolan, Councilor Josie Egan and Town Engineer Mike Livings for a few days to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. The city's Sister City Committee had laid out an agenda for the next few days that includes the St. Patrick's Day parade in Albany, N.Y., an Irish-American Club dinner, the "40 Shades of Green" art show and dinner at Mazzeo's and drinks at Patrick's Pub.
According to Fran Curley, who sits on the Sister City Committee, Pittsfield is partnered with Ballina through the Sister City International program. The two cities joined together in 1998. Since then, the mayors and representatives of each have visited each other often — starting with former Mayor Gerry Doyle, who was in attendance at Friday's reception.
"Ballina is such a wonderful place," Curley said. "I hope this association keeps going forever."
However, the formal relationship could be threatened with the abolishment of town councils in Ireland. The Ballina delegates said they don't know what will happen to the relationship once that level of government is gone but they vowed to continue with a relationship.
"With the abolishment of our councils, we will keep that relationship," Nolan said. "We are enjoying our stay and thank you very much for having us."
During the reception, Bianchi presented each representatives with presents on behalf of the city and the delegates did the same. Bianchi also read an email from former Ballina Mayor Mary Kelly, who attended last year, and a letter from current Mayor Johnny O'Malley.