Bagenalstown, Ireland - Pont Pean, France
PONT PEAN, May 2000
Bagenalstown and Pont Pean are now united following the signing of a Town Twinning Charter in the French town on Sunday May 7th.
Over forty people from Bagenalstown, including members of the Town Commission and Town Twinning Committee, took part in the weekend visit to Pont Pean to attend the historic ceremony.
The weekend visit began with local schoolchildren singing songs specially rehearsed for the Irish visitors, and the rekindling of friendships, which have developed between residents of Pont Pean and Bagenalstown.
Pont Pean shopkeepers had been preparing for the visit by decorating their premises with Irish flags, "Cead Mile Failte" signs, Irish ribbons and photographs of previous get-togethers. Residents had decorated their homes with similar items.
The local butcher had a special Irish Week, during which he prepared Irish takeaway meals for residents - a different dish every day. Other shopkeepers played Irish music from their premises.
The language barrier has been broken over the past few years with many of those involved in the twinning exercise learning French and English. Broken French and broken English was widespread, as were French and English dictionaries and phrase books.
On Saturday May 6th, we visited Rennes, capital of Brittany, a short fifteen minute drive from Pont Pean. The tour took in some of the city's marvellous historical buildings, including the City Hall and the Cathedral of St. Peter, and France's third largest market, Marche des Lices.
Another coach ride took us to lunch, and then to the Forest of Broceliande in the heart of Brittany. The Forest covers some 14,000 acres and contains many mythic sites, some associated with Arthurian legend.
We saw the Abbey of Paimpont and the Guillotin Oak, a tree which in 1791 was used as a hiding place for a rebel priest who was being chased by the Republican Army. The hollow tree can accommodate up to ten people, however only five from Bagenalstown attempted to climb inside.
A short distance from here we found the Golden Tree, a tree painted in gold leaf to signify the importance of trees following fires which destroyed thousands of trees in the area.
Following the tour, there was a short time to relax before setting off for the first nights social gathering. The local Sports Hall was the venue for each nights entertainment.
The hall was decorated with wonderful streamers and flags. Elderly people in Pont Pean had spent several days making the decorations and members of the Twinning Committee spent several hours preparing the hall.
We were treated to what is regarded as a traditional dish in this part of France - galletes (Pancakes). But they were no ordinary pancakes. First came galettes with a meat and vegetable topping. Then came galettes with egg, cheese and ham. Then followed galettes for desert, with a crispier pancake and a variety of toppings - strawberry, apple, chocolate or sugar.
We experienced a Breton evening with entertainment provided by a variety of French musicians and singers. Bagenalstown was also well represented with Dermot Shaughnessy playing guitar and Grace O'Reilly playing violin. Much later Paddy Kiely led a Bagenalstown choir in song, much to the delight of our hosts.
Sunday began quietly. Mass was celebrated in the Miners Church, beautifully decorated with images of Pont Pean in years gone by. During the Mass, Bagenalstown lady Mary Lynch sang a hymn.
After Mass a cocktail party, hosted by the Parish, took place. Then it was time for lunch with host families, as we prepared for the official ceremony of the weekend.
At the Town Hall dancers in traditional costume performed to the music of pipers. Schoolchildren with an assortment of flags lined up for the parade and members of Pont Peans Council and Twinning Association mingled with their Irish guests.
The parade proceeded along the streets of Pont Pean to the mine. A brass band from a neighbouring town played as the parade arrived and a number of residents, dressed in Miners costumes met the Mayor and Bagenalstown Town Commission Cathaoirleach Margaret Cushen.
The parade then continued to a playing field adjoining the sports hall. Children sang several songs and a music group played from a stage as the crowd gathered. The entertainment continued as the sun beamed down.
After several speeches the twinning charter was signed as cameras flashed and people applauded. Presentations were then made from one town to another. Bagenalstown was presented with a superb model of the towns mine as it was when fully operational. Pont Pean was presented with a brass ornament depicting an Irish dancer.
A new town sign for Pont Pean was then unveiled. A number of these signs will be erected on the approaches to the town, showing that it is twinned with Bagenalstown, County Carlow. Unfortunately, the sign produced contained the County Carlow coat of arms, and not the recently created coat of arms for Bagenalstown.
As the ceremony concluded, thunder roared, and everyone dashed inside for the cocktails offered by the Mayor to celebrate the occasion. Then a short rest before the Official Dinner.
The Dinner was accompanied by yet more entertainment - French and Irish, and a buffet of meats and salads fit for a king. Several bottles of French wine later, the evening drew to a close with a song or two from Patrick Roche.
Monday was a day to unwind with a visit to Mont Saint-Michel in the morning. The most visited monument in France is just over an hours drive from Pont Pean and offers spectacular views from the top of the Abbey. The pre-Romanesque church was built before the year 1,000.
After lunch we travelled to Saint-Malo, a maritime town, which faces the sea and contains huge ramparts surrounding the oldest area of the town. Again we had spectacular views of the sea and some shopping time, before experiencing our first French-style traffic jam during our return to Pont Pean.
The farewell dinner was another gastronomic feast. A variety of meats accompanied carrots, turnips and potatoes, and the obligatory bottles of French bread and wine.
A large choir provided some of the entertainment, while local musicians and singers sang songs of the sea and traditional French favourites. Mary Lunch sang a rousing version of "Danny Boy" and a number of Irish traditional tunes were performed by Grace O'Reilly and Dermot Shaughnessy.
A the night drew to a close everyone made their way home with their French hosts to enjoy their final night together. Morning came quickly and tears came down as the bus to the airport began to fill. New friends had been made, next years holidays had already been planned, and several gifts had been exchanged.
The enthusiasm of both sides to twinning is just as strong now as it was in 1997 when the idea of twinning was first mooted. The Pont Pean Twinning Committee wrote to Carlow County Secretary Jim Kearney asking if any town in the county would be interested in the initiative.
Mr. Kearney floated the idea of twinning at a meeting of Bagenalstown Town Commission. Members gave the initiative their full support and formed a twinning committee. And after the exchange of a number of letters and e-mails, the project gathered momentum.
A delegation from Pont Pean visited Bagenalstown the following year, and in 1998 a delegation from Bagenalstown led by Twinning Committee Chairman, Paddy Kiely and the then Chairman of Bagenalstown Town Commission, Enda Nolan, visited the French town.
Last year officials and residents of Pont Pean visited Bagenalstown and stayed with host families, for the fist signing of the Charter. This year French families played host to the Bagenalstown contingent.
Copyright(c)Jarlath Judge 2000