John Trainor has seen, firsthand, how a sister city agreement could benefit the City of Armstrong and Rathfriland, a community in Northern Ireland.
Trainor, an outgoing Armstrong councillor, spent a great deal of October with his wife, Leigh, in Ireland and met with officials from Rathfriland interested in a sister city arrangement between the two communities.
“They are so interested in having an association with Armstrong and with Canada,” said Trainor. “They hope it spurs potential tourism and some interest in their area.”
Trainor explained to council that Rathfriland is just across the border from Ireland on Carlingford Lough in County Down in the Mourne Mountains.
It does not have its own governance but is serviced by the community of Banbridge, which Trainor described as “much the same way the regional district (North Okanagan) looks after electoral areas and some of the functions of Armstrong, Spallumcheen and Enderby.”
Located an hour from Dublin and about 90 minutes from Belfast, Rathfriland is a big community without a large population base. The town and Northern Ireland, said Trainor, has never recovered from Irish Republican Army (IRA) issues, known locally as “the troubles.”
“The troubles kicked the you-know-what out of their economy,” said Trainor. “People are reluctant to travel to Northern Ireland.”
Rathfriland is also an agricultural community and the birthplace of Catherine Schubert, the first European woman to enter B.C. overland from Eastern Canada in 1862.
She moved to Armstrong in 1892 with her husband and their children to a farm on Round Prairie Road which is still in operation today. Schubert died in Armstrong in 1918.
It’s the Schubert connection that sparked Rathfriland’s interest in the sister city potential.
“This lady left these shores to make her way in the new world and really made good,” said Andy Peters, one of the Rathfriland officials interested in twinning with Armstrong, and who helped chauffeur and tour Trainor and his wife during their visit.
“She is highly revered and respected for all she achieved in B.C. It’s a really good news story that we would like to build on and foster relations with her new home.”
Trainor, who toured Schubert’s birthplace home, also met with representatives from the Rathfriland Restorative Society.
They are the ones, he said, “trying to keep the Northern Ireland town alive.”
“This group of people buys up old buildings in Rathfriland and renovates them,” said Trainor. “Once they are usable, they rent them out at very modest rents to businesses or individuals to keep the cash flowing and the buildings under repair. They just don’t have a lot of cash to work with.”
Trainor, who did not seek re-election, hopes to set up a sister city committee locally and is volunteering to sit on it.
Administrator Melinda Stickney said the city will prepare a draft agreement.
“Now that you’ve engaged the folks in Rathfriland, we’ll put together a committee structure which will include terms of reference that will talk about the goals and purpose of the committee,” said Stickney.
“We’ll bring that back to council so you can formally start negotiations with the overseas sister party to enter into a formal agreement.”