Our Beautiful Sister Across the Ocean
By David McNeill
Mayor, Southern Pines
Newry, Northern Ireland, and Southern Pines, N.C., are about 3,700 miles apart, yet it is quite interesting how much these localities share in common. A direct flight from Charlotte to Dublin now brings the two communities closer together.
What began in 2006 as a faculty exchange between Denise Baker of Sandhills Community College and her counterpart from Southern Regional College in Newry led to the signing of a sister city compact between the jurisdictions in 2009.
Originated in 1956 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the U.S. Sister Cities program creates partnerships to increase global cooperation, promote cultural understanding, formulate student exchange, and stimulate economic development. Current statistics indicate that 2,400 communities in 123 countries participate in the program.
Since this arrangement began, a number of delegations from the Southern Pines and Newry communities have crossed the northern Atlantic to visit each area. Last year, the "Bleeding Pines of Turpentine" drama and musical presented several performances in Northern Ireland.
Newry, founded in 1144, is located on the Dublin-to-Belfast corridor and is served by a recently constructed major highway similar to our Interstate system. Entering into Northern Ireland from Ireland is unnoticeable, since there are no border crossings or even signs to mark the boundary. Only the middle striping of the highway changes from a solid line to a dash line.
The Down, Newry and Mourne region is renowned for its natural beauty and rich history. The quaint small towns of Warrenpoint, Kilkeel and Newcastle overlook the Irish Sea and hold events and festivals throughout the year.
Stone walls appear to go on forever, lining the many fields on the rolling hills. With all the emerald-green vegetation, beautiful churches and cathedrals, flocks of sheep, and winding narrow roads, an artist could stay quite busy painting these scenes on canvas.
Our local group in Newry included Dr. John and Evelyn Dempsey, Ed and Jayne Rhodes, Emmet and Mary Logan, Mike and Bea Fields, and Cheryl and me.
Mayor Pro Tem Fields and I were invited by Mayor John McArdle and Councilman Michael Carr to attend a Monday night meeting of the Newry and Mourne District Council, a consolidated city/county form of government consisting of 30 elected members and several political parties. Topics of discussion were similar to items found on local government agendas here. Earlier in the day, we participated in a meeting of the Newry Rotary Club.
It was noteworthy that downtown Newry was undergoing streetscape improvements. Jack Murphy, a visitor to Southern Pines last year, arranged for us to meet a number of the Newry merchants, which included several young entrepreneurs.
During the week some of the group participated in a seafood cooking demonstration in the fishing village of Kilkeel; toured the recently opened Titanic Museum in Belfast and the historic Bagenals Castle in Newry; viewed an art exhibit at the college; visited Hanna's Close; explored the Mourne Mountains and Ring of Gullion region; and enjoyed traditional Irish folk music at the Welcome Inn in Forkhill.
Golf is an important part of the region's economy, as it is here. Royal County Down in Newcastle is one of the top-ranked golf courses outside the United States. The layout offers a challenge to golfers and spectacular views of the town and Mourne Mountains.
Ardglass Golf Club is the 2011 links course of the year, with holes that hug the craggy cliffs of the Irish Sea. To play this course on such a beautiful day was definitely worth the trip because of the incredible views of the course and across to the Isle of Man in the distance. Ardglass also lays claim to the oldest clubhouse in the world, working from an old castle.
In addition, the Warrenpoint Golf Club, a parkland-style course, was another challenging test, with holes that reminded you of courses in our North Carolina mountains.
On our flight home, our seatmate from Florida told us about his group's two-week cycle tour in the rolling Irish countryside. Local bikers may want to consider this area for a cycling getaway.
If you plan to visit Ireland in the near future, I recommend scheduling some of your time in the area of Newry and Mourne, Northern Ireland. There you will find delightful people with both a quick wit and welcoming hospitality.
While you are there, be sure to tell them hello from their sister city in Southern Pines.
David McNeill is mayor of Southern Pines.
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