Ballina Mayor Michael Loftus was welcomed during a reception at City Hall.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — When Michael Loftus got to town after a lengthy flight from Ireland, he knew where to go. He's been here before.
The mayor of Ballina, Ireland returned to Pittsfield on Friday for his second visit. He comes from the Pittsfield's sister city, a partnership that's last 19 years and still going strong.
"To me, coming here today and this weekend, has meant an awful lot. It is an honor to get the opportunity to come back here," Loftus said.
The longstanding relationship serves as a way for the two cities to share cultures and ideas. Each trip includes a reception at City Hall welcoming visitors from Ballina and when city residents go there, Ballina returns the favor. Last year Loftus, when he was a councilor, was joined by an entire delegation. This year, he came back on his own.
"I didn't need to be shown where to go with my Google maps. I knew exactly where I was going because I was brought to all of the places to see," Loftus said.
He found his way to the City Council Chambers where he joined members of the Sister City Commission, department heads, and elected officials to welcome him. Mayor Linda Tyer read a proclamation and the two mayors exchanged gifts from their cities.
"They've carried on these great friendships," Tyer said of the Sister City Commission, which organizes these trips for each of the city's sister cities.
Council Vice President John Krol said Pittsfield was built on being welcoming to other cultures, countries and immigrants. Despite what may be happening on the national political level, Krol says the city will continue to be welcoming.
"That is the history of our country and the history of Pittsfield," Krol said. "This city represents welcoming and banding together."
The Sister City Commission agrees and has voted to also take a role in welcoming immigrants and refugees. Andy Kelly, chairman of the commission, said the board voted to serve as a liaison between the city and any incoming immigrants or refugees.
"I'm a child of immigrants as are all of you," Kelly said.
Despite living in different corners of the world and having different cultures, Irish Sister City Committee Fran Curley says there is an interconnection between all people.
Last night when Loftus first arrive, Curley and Loftus met at the Crowne Plaza. There they met a man whose ancestors came from the same town as Loftus. The two exchanged cards and Loftus is going to help with some ancestry research. It is those types of connections Curley says he loves.
"I love the interconnections between people," Curley said.
As for the gifts, Tyer presented Loftus a Pittsfield t-shirt, a bottle of the locally-made Fire Cider, and a book of historic postcards from the city. Loftus gave gifts to Tyer, the mayor's Executive Assistant Catherine Van Bramer, Krol, and members of the Irish Sister City Committee.
He had brought books, lapel pins featuring the flags of Ireland and the United State linked, lapel pins with the Ballina crest, books highlighting sights in County Mayo, and glassware with the Ballina crest. And bottles of whiskey.
The Irish Sister City Committee will now take Loftus around the county and beyond to show him even more of the Berkshires than he had experienced before.
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