PITTSFIELD -- If it began with "Irish Eyes Are Smiling" and ended with "Danny Boy," the event must have something to do with the sister city relationship knotting Pittsfield with Ballina, Ireland.
On Friday afternoon at City Hall, Pittsfield officials past and present, as well as volunteers with the Sister City program here and other area residents, formally greeted a contingent from Ballina -- visiting for a long weekend that will include St. Patrick's Day.
Mary Kelly and Peter Clarke, former Ballina mayors, and town engineer Orla Bourke were feted at City Council chambers with music by singer Brian Litscher, accompanied by Andrew Kelly, Sheila McKenna and John Culpo.
"It is wonderful to have you here," said Pittsfield
The mayor said his hope is that the relationship can expand in coming years to include even more trips, exchanges and collaborative efforts, including one involving businesses.
The city and Ballina formally signed the sister city agreement on March 17, 1998, in Pittsfield, and since then there have been numerous trips in both directions by community delegations.
The relationship began with efforts during the tenure of former Mayor Charles L. Smith and became a formal one under former Mayor Gerald S. Doyle, both of whom were in attendance on Friday.
Robert Dwyer, president of Pittsfield's Irish Sister City Committee, welcomed the visitors and presented them with a framed print depicting Park Square in 1912.
"We all enjoy going to Ballina, and we enjoy showing off the city of Pittsfield," he said.
Mary Kelly said she was making her 14th trip to Pittsfield, "sometimes two or three times a year," and "you have always been very warm and welcoming to us."
She praised the cultural, sports-related, community and other exchanges that have grown from the program over the years, and she praised Bianchi's suggestion of a trip involving small businesses.
Clarke told those gathered about his town and welcomed anyone interested in Ireland to visit. Among the attractions in the County Mayo town along the country's northwest coast are salmon and other fishing, historical collections and genealogical assistance for those tracing their Irish roots.
Clarke's late father, Jackie, amassed a rare and valuable collection of Irish papers dating back centuries, Kelly said, and upon his death specified that it should remain at a museum in Ballina.
Bianchi and his wife, Theresa, who is Irish, will join the visitors for a trip to Albany, N.Y., today for the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade there.
The event Friday was filmed by Pittsfield Community Television and will be shown again on Sunday.
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