PITTSFIELD — It's been less than a month since Councillor Michael Smyth was elected to the position of chair of the district council in Ballina, a small town on the River Moy in Western Ireland.

One of his first duties in the position, which is similar to a mayor for ceremonial purposes, was to travel to the town's "sister city" of Pittsfield and take part in the Fourth of July parade in honor of the 20 year anniversary of the partnership between the two communities.

"I've been over to the mayor's office," said Smyth, 45, at a ceremony Tuesday at the Berkshire Athenaeum. "It's a beehive."

When looking for a sister city in Ireland more than 20 years ago, the committee's president, Anne Gagnon, said the group first came up with a list of towns in the country where some of the region's Irish immigrants have come from, and Ballina was the most enthusiastic about partnering. The Pittsfield Irish Sister City Committee matched with Ballina in 1998 and the two municipalities have since hosted several exchanges.

Sister Cities International is a nonpartisan nonprofit that was founded by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1956 in order to "promote peace through mutual respect, understanding, and cooperation," according to the group's mission statement.

Pittsfield also has sister cities in Italy and Nicaragua.

On Tuesday morning, Smyth went for a run around the city and was intrigued by the architecture, cultural institutions and churches, he said.

"It has made for a culturally diverse community that you have here. That's really, really important," Smyth said, adding, "I can see the same challenges facing your city are facing ours."

Ballina, a town of 16,000 to 17,000 residents, also faces an upsurge of heroin use and the disappearance of retail stores, he later said.

"When we reach out to each other, we can see the things we have in common," he said.

Mayor Linda Tyer, who is proud of her Irish and Italian heritage, said that hosting visitors serves as a reminder about how special the city is.

Patricia and Timothy Martin, of Lee, toured Ireland one year ago and had the opportunity to spend time in Ballina.

"We saw them fishing for salmon in the river," Patricia Martin said at Tuesday's event. "They're the salmon capital [of Ireland]."

Martin said the town looked more rural than Pittsfield, but was beautifully maintained where flowerbeds are plentiful.

Now the Martins are interested in becoming involved with the Sister City Committee.

Smyth said he planned to visit Tanglewood on Tuesday evening with representatives from the committee.

On Monday, 16 Berkshire residents, including committee members, will be traveling to Ballina for its annual salmon festival.

Members of the group will visit a castle, attend a party at a former city leader's house and take a seaweed bath, according to committee secretary Francis Curley.

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at horecchio@berkshireeagle.com, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.