By Steve Guntli
The tiny parish of Kilcar in northwest Ireland is known for its fishing, fine knitted clothes and beautiful scenery. One Birch Bay resident is hoping to make the quiet seaside community Birch Bay’s sister community.
Kelvin Barton, owner of several rental cottages in Birch Bay, first suggested the idea on his last trip to Ireland. Barton’s family immigrated to the United States from Kilcar in the early 1900s, and he still has strong family ties in the region.
“I was there in October, and I brought the idea to the Kilcar Parish Council,” he said. “I thought we could get something together for St. Patrick’s Day, and they liked the idea.”
Sister city programs first began after World War II as a way to strengthen relationships between international communities. Sister cities may have similar populations, exports, scenery or even names (for example, the city of Dull, Scotland is a sister city with Boring, Oregon).
Once paired, the communities build a relationship through cultural education programs and business exchanges.
Sister city programs are particularly popular in Ireland.
“There’s a saying that Ireland’s biggest export is their children,” Barton said. “So Ireland is big on keeping in touch with the people who left.”
Birch Bay and Kilcar parish are similar in size, though Birch Bay has a much larger population. Kilcar Village has a population of less than 300, while the parish itself has about 4,000 people. Both regions have rich fishing histories and beautiful waterfronts.
The nonprofit organization Sister Cities International handles all sister city applications. Naming an official sister city can be a long process, but the first step is establishing a common interest between the two communities. Barton hasn’t submitted an official application just yet.
“We don’t know if it will go any further than this, but we thought it would be a fun activity for St. Patrick’s Day,” Barton said. “In some cases, the government will pay for a representative from a sister city to fly out and visit, but we’re not sure if that’s going to happen yet. We’ll wait and see.”
Barton and officials from Kilcar plan to share photos of their respective St. Patrick’s Day celebrations on a common website. Barton is hoping to use krontel.com for the photos, but he’s still setting it up.
Barton and a small group of friends celebrate St. Paddy’s Day each year by strolling down Birch Bay Drive.
“We walk from business to business and see what kind of trouble we can get into,” he said. “We’ll stop in and eat or sing traditional Irish songs. It’s a lot of fun, and I’m hoping we can get more people involved this year.”
The walk will begin at the Will’O Pub at 1 p.m. on Saturday, March 14.