Growing links between Ballinrobe and Lithuania will be strengthened even more this month when a delegation from the south Mayo town and Mayo County Council visit the Baltic country to initiate a Town Twinning partnership.
The first formal steps in the twinning of Ballinrobe and the town of Jonava will take place at a festival in the Lithuanian town on June 21. Ballinrobe and Lithuania have been linked since 1935, when Lithuanian pilot Felix Waitkus made an emergency landing just outside Ballinrobe. He was the only pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic in that year, and only the sixth ever. In recent years, the influx of Lithuanians to Ireland has brought renewed interest in Waitkus’ story and for the past three years Ballinrobe has hosted Ireland’s Lithuanian community in an annual festival.
“Ballinrobe has become the unofficial hub for Ireland’s Lithuanian community. The Lithuanian Ambassador to Ireland and some Government ministers from Lithuania have all visited Ballinrobe for official functions, including the 2007 unveiling of a permanent memorial to Felix Waitkus in the town,” explained David Hall of Ballinrobe Tourism Committee.
David and Patsy Murphy – other tireless promoters of the Ballinrobe-Lithuanian relationship – will also travel on the trip to Jonava. “This is the first step in the twinning process, and the second will be taken at our Fly Mayo Festival in Ballinrobe in September which will celebrate the 75th anniversary of Felix Waitkus’ flight,” Mr Hall added. “It promises to be a huge occasion in Ballinrobe and we are expecting about 600 Lithuanians to visit the town, including the Ambassador to Ireland and some representatives of the Lithuanian Government.”
The June visit will also include a delegation from Mayo County Council who have been strong supporters of the Ballinrobe-Lithuanian link. This will include local councillors Michael Burke, Damien Ryan, Patsy O’Brien, and Richard Finn. Some members of Ballinrobe’s Lithuanian community will also travel. A website to celebrate the strengthening relationship is currently being constructed.