August 12, 2007
By Ken Krayeske • 7:45 PM EST
Dan Carey and Irish Students at the University of Hartford
Hartford drew the short end of the stick in its sister city relationship with New Ross, County Wexford, Ireland, jested New Ross teenager Ciaran Lyng.
New Ross and its environs has maybe 27,000 people, Lyng said, compared to Hartford's 120,000.
"They're a small town, and we're a small city," said Hartford Town Clerk Dan Carey, who chairs the Hartford-New Ross sister city committee. "And a river runs through both of them."
Lyng was one of five Irish students from New Ross who spent July in Hartford as part of year-long festival commemorating the founding of New Ross in 1207.
New Ross is most famous for being the place where Patrick Kennedy, the great-grandfather of President John F. Kennedy, was born and emigrated from. In 1848, Patrick Kennedy set sail on the wooden ship Dunbrody, a replica of which sits docked on the river in New Ross.
The sister city relationship between Hartford and New Ross arose from this historical connection, according to Carey.
Volunteers housed and fed Lyng and his cohorts in Hartford as part of the largest cultural and educational exchange between the two municipalities in the 14 years they have been sister cities, Carey said.
Hartford has sister city relationships with 11 other cities around the world, in countries as varied as Nicaragua, Italy, Greece, Ghana, Portugal, Jamaica and China.
"Our goal is to foster educational, cultural and economic development," Carey said.
The New Ross committee is one of the more active, Carey said, noting with pride that he just returned from New Ross as part of the 800th anniversary celebration. To spice up the party, the New Ross City Council decided to send five students – one from each of the New Ross high schools, to Hartford for a month.
For the St. Patrick's Day Parades, Hartford and New Ross exchange music bands. And Carey talked with enthusiasm about the Kennedy Cup, a golf tournament every two years which features players from both towns squaring off for the honor of a Waterford Crystal trophy. Waterford is just south of New Ross.
The park that runs over Interstate-84 between Main and Trumbull Streets is also known as New Ross, County Wexford Park. That's why I visited New Ross during my recent jaunt to Ireland. The first story I wrote for the Hartford Advocate back in 1998 – about skateboarding in Hartford – noted that very fact.
So I hopped a bus Eireann, and headed three hours south of Dublin. Pedestrians walk alongside the riverside in New Ross, and the main street is one street to the right of the river.
Walking past the small shops lining the tiny streets of New Ross, the smell of fresh baked bread hung in the air. It's cozy downtown features a few funky hidden passageway streets that come from being 800 years old.
Aside from the two-year-old standing outside of the post office screaming his head off, the people were friendly (which is exactly the impression that Lyng and his cohorts have of Hartford).
"Our host families have been so nice," chimed in New Rosser Melanie Cleary, 18, who just graduated from high school and is on her way to college in Dublin, hopefully at Trinity.
The host families took the students to Boston, New York and of course, the mall. But the students also took a comparative American-Irish culture class at the University of Hartford Monday through Thursday from 1 to 4 p.m.
The cultural exchange was valuable for the kids from New Ross, Lyng said. Aside from the flood of Polish immigrants into New Ross during the past three years, the people are typically Irish, Lyng said.
"New Ross is all Irish Catholic and white," Lyng said, adding that it rains plenty there.
On this exchange, Lyng and his cohorts encountered diversity and humidity.
"I had never talked to a black person before," Lyng said. It should be noted that Lyng, at 16, is far more politically astute than most American adults.
He is a member of the Irish Green Party, and actually voted in the party's recent decision to join the government. It was a giant step for the Irish Green Party to turn six parliament seats into two ministerial posts, Lyng said. So don't think that Lyng is provincial. Ireland just isn't like the United States.
"I had never met a Jewish person before," Melanie Cleary said. She marveled at how in a 14 person class at the University of Hartford, there was a Syrian, an Italian, and an African-American.
"It was great to meet a person from the Middle East," Cleary said.
And such is the value of international exchange. Hartford's Carey and his New Ross committee hope to send five Hartford students to New Ross for a month of classes and Irish cultural immersion.
Carey said his crew will hold fund raisers to procure the money. It is a great idea, but an even better one would be for the city should to finance trips for deserving high school students as the New Ross City Council did for its youth.
It's one small thing we could learn from our sister city. Next, we should study their health care system…