TwinTowns – Maynooth/Canet Twinning on Road to Success

One of the more recent pairings amongst the Irish-French town twinning associations, this is a tale of two dissimilar cities…

“We’re only in the infancy of the twinning arrangement at this point – just two years.” So says Tom McMullon, chairman of Maynooth Community Council. They recently held a Harvest Festival in the university town at which their French twinning partnership took centre stage.

Maynooth is twinned with Canet-en-Roussillon – a Catalan town in Languedoc-Roussillon close to the Spanish border. It’s one of the most recent town twinning associations between an Irish and French town and Canet is the most southerly town in France that’s twinned with an Irish town.

Tom McMullon (l) with members of the Canet-en-Roussillon delegation in Maynooth at the Harvest Festival, September 2013

Tom McMullon (l) with members of the Canet-en-Roussillon delegation in Maynooth at the Harvest Festival, September 2013

Although both Canet-en-Roussillon and Maynooth have similarly-sized populations (both around 10,000 people) and an interesting mediaeval past, you would struggle to find any other similarities. Canet is set on a breezy plain with the Pyrenees mountains close by and a magnificent long sandy beach that lures hundreds of thousands of holiday-makers during the summer. Maynooth, on the other hand is, well… Maynooth: proud and beautiful midlands university town of ecclesiastical heritage.

So how did the pair meet and become twins?

The original impetus came, it seems, from the French side (see video interview above). Eager to make use of the excellent direct connections that the area enjoys and mindful of the fact that the largest foreign grouping of owners of second homes in Canet-en-Roussillon was Irish, the local council set about finding an Irish town that would have complimentary qualities rather than finding a colder, Irish version of themselves.

Although the twinning is in its infancy, it seems to be a successful approach. The recent visit to Maynooth at the end of September went very well according to Maynooth Community Council chairman Tom McMullon:

“For the first couple of years, it’s really a cementing basis,” he says. “It’s a process of getting to know people and getting to know what they want.

“My main thing when it comes to twinning is to encourage more cross-relationships between organisations such as the schools, the sports activities and the college.”

All eyes on the swimmers: competitors line up for an international swimming event at Canet-en-Rousillon

All eyes on the swimmers: competitors line up for an international swimming event at Canet-en-Rousillon

Canet-en-Roussillon benefits from having a 50-metre swimming pool of world class standard that forms part of the international training circuit for world’s best swimmers. Students from Maynooth have already tried it out, having recently competed in swimming contests there. Maynooth, meanwhile, welcomes international sporting panels to train at its excellent field facilities in Carton House.

The exchange of services in language training is also something that both communities have benefited from. One of the defining differences between Irish twinning set-ups and their French counterparts is that of budget and political organisation. A town in France such as Canet-en-Roussillon has a defined political structure with a mayor and a team directly elected by the townspeople. More importantly still, it has a budget to fund necessary functions for the benefit of the town, including twinning activities.

In the case of Maynooth (as in the case of virtually every other twinning organisation in Ireland), the twinning committee is an entirely voluntary organ without any statutory basis which is obliged to raise funds themselves through activities and going cap-in-hand to the local County Council.

“I think that Kildare County Council are very pleased with our efforts so far,” says McMullon. “It’s just a pity that there’s not more money going into these projects from government funding”.

Rugby Country: 13-man rugby on the beach is popular in Canet, which is only 12km from Perpignan.

Rugby Country: 13-man rugby on the beach is popular in Canet, which is only 12km from Perpignan.

According to McMullon, funding from Kildare County Council came to approximately €500 so far – money for which he and the committee are, no doubt, grateful, but money which does not go far in organising the sort of activities you need to when you have a twinning arrangement in place.

On the French side, a full professional team is already in place and funded in the form of the Mairie (town hall) and the local tourism board. The twinning works because of the hard work and dedication of the volunteers involved but these examples illustrate the stark need for the sort of political reform that was talked about by current members of the Dáil before they got into power.

In the meantime, the Maynooth Twinning committee continues its work, managing to keep the show going through usage of the DSP scheme and fund-raising activities that are well supported – showing the level of enthusiasm in the town for the French exchange. Most of the committee, Tom says, have been over to Canet-en-Rousillon twice or three times and the visit at the end of September of the French delegation was their second visit to Maynooth. There are plenty more exchanges and activities planned for the future, based on cultural, sporting, business and educational links.

Tootlafrance France/Ireland Twin Towns Map

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