Skerries Town Twinning Association, 20 years on

Lecture by Geraldine McQuillan
(Skerries Historical Society Meeting – 14th May 2013)

Geraldine McQuillan presented ‘Skerries Town Twinning Association, 20 years on’, a talk outlining the relationship between the town of Skerries and the Canton of Guichen between 1991-2013, a period of just over 20 years.

The origins of town twinning in Europe, particularly since the end of the Second World War, lay in the many alliances formed between areas where conflict had broken down the links which formerly bound towns or regions together. This was particularly marked by the high number of twinnings between towns and areas in France and Germany.

The initial contact between Skerries and the Canton of Guichen was facilitated by Kevin Thorp, President of the Irish-Breton Society. In Summer 1991, a delegation from Guichen visited Skerries for the first time and proposed a twinning arrangement which might be a successful development for both areas.

The Canton of Guichen comprises seven small communes, grouped together for administrative purposes to form the Canton. It lies to the South-West of Rennes and has a population profile similar to that of Skerries.

The twinning ceremony in July 1994 on Skerries Head turned out to be a grand affair, involving a parade, speeches, the signing of a charter and an impressive fly-over by three Air Corps planes.

The following year, 120 people from Skerries returned as guests of the Canton of Guichen for the second half of the ceremony. Home hosting is a vital part of all twinning arrangements, as it facilitiates contact with the everyday life of the families concerned, be they French or Irish.

Over the following years, at least one official trip has been organised annually. For many years there was even an exchange to mark the celebration of St Patrick’s Day. Music was the theme for two successive visits – the first to Guichen for the Fete de la Musique in June 2007 and the return trip to Skerries for the Soundwaves Festival in 2008. Over 40 participants travelled in each direction for these two highly successful events.

Alongside these have been exchanges with schools and between individual teenagers of families. Sport has always been a popular means of overcoming the language barrier and seven sport and cultural exchanges have taken place – the next one to Guichen is this July, when over 30 Skerries teenagers and leaders will travel to the Canton for five days.

Skerries Town Twinning Association, along with the Canton of Guichen has twice been awarded a Gold Star of Twinning – Etoile d’Or du Jumelage – by the European Commission for their efforts to promote European unity through friendship.

Nevertheless, despite the signs at three town entrances, the twinning stone at the Harbour and the inauguration of Guichen Way at Red Island, the Association struggles to find an image in the town. With this in mind three social events were organised over 12 months – a wine night by founder member Tony Keeling in December, a table quiz in February and the screening of French film, Les Choristes in April.

Still, behind the scenes, many personal exchanges take place between families and enduring friendships are started at kitchen tables with the French/English dictionary in pride of place.

Report by Oona Roycroft

Page updated – 28 / 3 / 2014