One of the emerging features of modern Ireland is the fact that more and more towns around the country are hoping to extend their social and cultural horizons by twinning with towns and areas around the world. Have you ever wondered what those towns, whose names you see on road signs around the county, are really like? In the first of a new mini-series which will discover some twinning relationships that Longford towns are associated with, Stephen Feeney describes Lanesborough, Massachusetts who have just set up a twinning agreement with Longford's very own Lanesborough.
Only a few miles away from Lanesborough, Ireland is Roscommon, County Longford, Ireland, where you'll find the historic remains of an abbey behind the Abbey Hotel. On that site, in addition to the ruins of the abbey, you will find the tomb of Rory O'Connor, the last High King of Ireland. The top of the tomb has a sculpture of Rory O'Connor, who died in 1198AD, with his dog curled up lying at his feet.
Funny how things come about, even funnier how they develop. On a trip to Ireland four years when her daughter was getting married, Stephanie Abrams, herself a host of not one but two hit radio travel show entitled 'Travel with Stephanie Abrams' and 'Travelling Feet', bought a map she describes "as the best ever." While inspecting it one day she came across the town of Lanesborough nestled beside the River Shannon. Immediately her interest jumped, she two is from a town called Lanesborough however hers was buried in Berkshire County, the Donegal, if you will, of the state of Massachusetts.
Unfortunately for Stephanie, her time in Ireland was tight and as a result she was unable to make the trip to Longford however both she and her husband promised that they would return the following year. So in 2004 they arrived back and as Stephanie explains it wasn't long until the ball got rolling on the twinning agreement. “We drove down Main Street and then stopped in on Joe O'Briens and met Joe and his Mum and then we met John Casey the butcher, who is also a Town Councillor and we swapped information,” she says.
“There were back and fourth telephone
conversations and a couple of postcards and then I eventually
got in touch with Sarah Crinigan about the setting up of the
Lanesborough, MA is itself not much different from its Irish counterpart. Rich in beautiful scenery and cultural heritage, the town is a small bit bigger with a population of little under 3,000 people. Their links with each other go all the way back to the 18th Century when the Governor of Massachusetts, a Mr William Shirley named the local town after the wife of one of his best friends. She went by the name of Countess “Lovely” Lanesborough and as he thought that the area was so picturesque he decided to call the new territory after her in 1741.
Berkshire county's attraction to aristocracy and wealth didn't stop there however. Since the 1800s it has become a hotbed for the rich and famous who attempted to escape the suffocating industrialisation of New York and Boston. One of its famous residents was Herman Meville who, as Stephanie describes, got the inspiration from the local landscape for one of the most well known literally works ever – Moby Dick.
“Herman Melville, when writing Moby Dick was inspired by October Mountain, which is called such because when the leaves change colour there is the most glorious blaze of gold and reds. At sunset the mountain comes to life and this is what he describes in his writing. The mountain slopes up at an angle and it reminded him of a whale.”
To the present day and most of the areas inhabitants of Lanesborough have some degree of Irish heritage, which is a good thing, especially when Stephanie says that the weather is very volatile sometimes representing all four seasons in the one day. “You always know somebody from Lanesborough because they were both shorts and a raincoat,” she explains. It is also a largely rural community with about 35 households per mile and much like Longford most people in the area are either involved in farming or construction.
Sporting-wise, most of the local kids play soccer and there are a number of golf courses. However probably the biggest attraction to not just enthusiasts but also holiday makers is the Jiminey Peak Ski resort, the summit of which falls into Lanesborough. Also due the ferocity of winter, locals are treated to lakes which have frozen over with 18 inches of thick ice perfect for skating.
The area is also a big pull for classical
musical lovers with the concerts at Tanglewood taking place
every year. This is the only outdoor concert venue dedicated
to the classical movement and as such acts as the Summer home
of the Boston symphony orchestra who take part in weekly performances
It does appear as if the twinning relationship, which was officially established last year when Stephanie herself hand carried the twinning document to Ireland, is going to be a strong and vibrant one. As a token of their respect that day, the twinning committee in Lanesborough, Longford presented a bog oak sculpture from Michael Casey to Stephanie to bring back to the US.
This token of gesture was more than greatly received state side and was returned in kind with a bronze sculpture from an American artist called Andrew De Vries, called “The Shaker Angel” which was given to a delegation of people from Lanesborough, Ireland who visited Massachusetts in October.
Among those in the party was Mayor Peggy Nolan and she described how struck by how much the two towns mirrored each other. “The similarities between the two communities was unbelievable,” she says.
“The reception was very warm and very friendly, so much so that the fire service sent home a signed a helmet to there brothers in arms if you like. That was very special. All in all the trip was very worthwhile and I believe that it will forge bonds between the two communities. I also think that one of the main elements of the trip was the enthusiasm of the people of Massachusetts.”
These sentiments were reiterated on by Sarah Crinigan who was heavily involved in setting up the Lanesborough/Ballyleague twinning committee which is chaired by Councillor Ade Farrell and she described their hopes for the future of the agreement. “We're hoping some of the people from Massachusetts will come over and get to know the people over here. I know they are planning to stay in people's homes so we are looking for volunteers in the local area who would be happy to open up their homes to the people of Lanesborough, Massachusetts for a week. For the long term plans I know that the girls school in Lanesborough have already been in touch with the elementary school in Massachusetts, they were hoping to start up a pen pal scheme which will be great,” said Sarah who is herself Chairperson of the Shannonside Heritage.
“Really we're hoping that it will open up some tourism opportunities. It will just highlight the whole Lanesborough/Ballyleague area as a possible tourist attraction. I know that it is somewhere that is forgotten but we do have a lot of attractions, it is a lovely area and a lot goes on that is community based. The main plan is to get a list of groups here that are interested in matching up with similar groups there, so say any art groups, heritage groups, sports groups or the scouts and linking up with the the with similar groups or interests over there and even start some sort of cultural exchange.”
Certainly with strong links already made through the endeavour of Stephanie Abrams and the Lanesborough/Ballyleague twinning committee it appears that this fellowship can only go from strength to strength. We look on with interest as two as the most picturesque areas you could imagine continue to share ideas, plans and heritage. y