Tootlafrance takes a look at the musical roots of the Carrigaline-Guidel twinning arrangement, currently celebrating its 30th year of existence
Situated near Lorient Airport, the small commune of Guidel does bear some resemblance to its Cork twinning partner. The two towns are of a similar size, both are located in “rebel counties” in their own country, both are about 10km away from an airport and both are commuter towns for a larger city (Lorient and Cork respectively).
“My first involvement was back in 2008,” says Jim Kelly of the Carrigaline-Guidel Twinning Committee. “I’m a musician myself and they were looking for a few musicians to travel so I went with them.
“I really enjoyed the week we had over there – just the hospitality and the welcome from the people. The craic was great! The scenery is pretty stunning too in the Morbihan and Finistère areas… quite dramatic I love the French wine and the French food, needless to say, so all those factors contributed.”
Jim was already familiar with France from camping trips with his family to Brittany and the Vendée but the twinning experience offered him the kind of deeper connection that regular tourism experiences don’t normally provide. Jim now describes himself more specifically as a “Breton-phile” than a Francophile.
The twinning set-up follows the normal pattern of exchanging visits once a year, alternating between Brittany and Ireland.
“In terms of our own committee, we tend to meet once a month from September to May. We plan fundraising – cake sales and table quizzes and suchlike – just to keep some money in the account. Twinning is not a very high priority in terms of seeking contributions. There are a lot more worthy causes than twinnning associations. But we’re aware of that and we always try to organise events where we can give people something back. That’s proven quite successful. It’s hard work but we’ve a hard-working committee.”
Carrigaline recently added another town to their twinning portfolio – this time in Bavaria – but the forming of the extra link has actually breathed new energy into the town twinning structure, according to Jim. In many cases, taking on too many links can over-burden such structures but in Carrigaline’s case, it seems to have had the opposite effect.
“There was initially a bit of negativity when that happened,” he said, “particularly from some of the older members who were asking ‘why do we need another twinning?’ but in my view it was all about rejuvenating, reaching out and getting more people involved.”
Forming life-long friends and deep cultural connections are two of the things that make twinning such a rewarding experience, according to Jim: “Yes, that and beating the tourist trap. When you’re visiting, you stay with host families and you get to see the real Brittany, both in terms of how they live their lives and you quickly realise that people have the same problems and issues that you have yourself – be it with health issues, financial issues or whatever… it brings to light the fact that we all have the same conditions to deal with. That’s a very rich experience to have, actually.”
Getting more young people involved in the experience is challenging, he says. A lot of that has to do with the fact that the local secondary school has set up its own connection with a school in Rennes, the Breton capital. In the early years of the Carrigaline-Guidel link, there was a student exchange but this has been eclipsed by the Carrigaline Community School’s own twinning efforts.
“They’re not involved in ours, despite us trying to get them involved. That’s hopefully going to change now because there are a number of new secondary schools opening in Carrigaline and we’re in discussions with them about doing exchanges with a school in Guidel.”
In the meantime, the musical element is one of the key factors that keeps this exchange alive and thriving: “The Bretons love their music and their dancing. That really is an integral part of our meetings with them.”
Although it was last year that the arrangement officially marked its 30th anniversary, the Bretons haven’t had a chance to throw their party for it yet, so this year will see a celebration (currently underway at the time of writing) in which the music of the two Celtic nations will play a central role:
“We’re going to have a concert with choirs from Carrigaline (our local Comhaltas Group) and choirs from Guidel. It should be an amazing evening.”
Although twinning was initially something to teach people in the post-war years that their erstwhile enemies didn’t have two heads and were normal human beings like themselves, Jim believes that this message is even more important today, over 70 years on from World War II.
“I think that nowadays with the rise of the extreme right and extreme nationalism, it’s even more important for us to retain our European identity. That’s the grand vision but twinning means different things for different people and for most people, it’s the friendships, it’s family, it’s learning the language and enjoying the different music and cultures, be it painting or whatever… There are many layers to this.”
Check out the Carrigaline-Guidel link and many more on the Tootlafrance Twin Towns Map below!