Back in the day, town twinnings were a great fashion altogether. Every little town and village had some fella living down the road, probably in on a witness protection programme or someone who said he hailed from some little Breton village named Creton-LeBlanque or Moron du Ville. And in a time when there was really nothing on the telly and it rained for eight months of the year, the temptation for a jolly to an exotic destination (anything east of Moate ) was too much to resist.
I remember sitting in on “exploratory” meetings where suitable destinations were discussed and hearing lines like “make sure it’s somewhere hot…” and “No, Las Vegas wouldn’t be interested at all at all, but Amsterdam might.”
In the end, after you’d have traversed an actual desk globe trying to find the equivalent of a town of pen-pals, you’d settle on some place in Brittany. And back then before the Internetwebby thing, there’d be only two photos of the place… usually blue skies, with lots of flowers and a bridge. And the photos would be passed around with the assembled mass looking confused and saying things like “jaysis that's a grand bridge.”
Back in the 70s and 80s, you were nothing if you didn’t have a cultural partnership with someplace in Brittany. It was civic chic to be annually hosting a delegation of a chilled-out mayor called Gaston and the councillors, nodding at each other and whispering ‘what did she say.” A cross between an episode of 'Allo 'Allo and a council meeting.
The modern concept of town twinning, conceived after the Second World War, was intended to foster friendship and understanding between different cultures and between former foes as an act of peace and reconciliation, and to encourage trade and tourism. We never went to war with Brittany (correct at time of going to press ), but we devoured each other when it came to twinning and we watched each other dancing our traditional dances until we screamed "no more."
Cities that felt they did not want to be seen as mere towns twinning, opted for the sister cities programme and Galway to its credit has arrangements with St Louis, Lorient, Seattle, Chicago, Bradford, Cambridge, Mass; Aalborg, Milwaukee and the most recent one Menlo Park, California. Galway also has what is termed a Friendship Agreement with Qindao which is twenty years old this year.
Why are we not twinning anymore? Do we have enough friends? Are there more exciting places in the world we want to go to? And are we getting enough out of our twinning arrangements. Back then, we were only too glad if somebody wanted to twin with us, in the same way you hope that nobody refuses to shake your hand at a funeral.
But now the tables have turned — we have lots to offer in terms of expertise, economic convergence, academic opportunities.
Menlo Park is home to some of the largest companies in the world — this relationship is something that should be exploited in terms of technology, education smart city status. So too with the Chinese market —The next century could be the Chinese one — Galway is ideally placed to offer key elements in terms of technological and academic largesse.
The Mayor of Shanghai arrives in Galway in April — for the leader of such a vast city to include Galway in his itinerary shows that we already have the door open to such a relationship.
The town twinning programme has been fantastic for reaching the hand of friendship. We should be looking at enriching new programmes of co-operation with our town and city partners
The same applies even more pertinently to the towns and villages around the region who have twinning arrangements, or who would like to find places of equal demographics, who have similar issues about facilities, development, the richness of life. If each place that has a twinning arrangement could take something concrete it and apply it every year, then our relationship would be mutually beneficial.
The expertise that exists in this region in terms of culture, in terms of med tech, in terms of biosciences, of computing, of regional development. Together they can drink from the well of talent that exists and is continually tapped in start-up programmes in GMIT, NUI Galway, the Portershed and so on.
Galway is at a crossroads now — so much of the key city centre infrastructure lies awaiting development; the solution of traffic issues, the creation of a port culture; the exploitation of the maritime, the marriage of the university and the city through the Nun's Island regeneration. These arr concepts that will shape the the new Galway. Over the next decade, Galway shapes its next century. By choosing the right strategic alliances, by making the right decisions, by dumping the culture of pettiness that seems to afflict every major project that comes our way, will we become the city we can.