Waterford city and St John's, Newfoundland, to be twinned

 

Three centuries of shared history will be marked this autumn when Waterford formally twins with the city of St John's in Newfoundland.

The move opens the prospect of a range of cultural, business, educational and tourism initiatives between the two cities, which are 3,500 km apart.

It also recognises the historical links arising from the mass emigration from the south-east to Newfoundland from the mid-18th century onwards. Immigrants from Waterford city and its hinterland accounted for half the island's population in 1836.

A delegation of about 20 Waterford representatives, including the city manager, Mr Eddie Breen, has just returned from St John's where details of the twinning arrangement were finalised.

A formal twinning ceremony will take place in Waterford in late September or early October, when a delegation from St John's visits the south-east.

Ms Agnes Aylward, the director of the Ireland-Newfoundland Partnership, which organised the visit to St John's, says touring the Cape Shore and Irish Loop areas of the Avalon Peninsula in Newfoundland is an emotional experience for any Irish visitor.

"Waterford visitors to this area will be deeply moved to find themselves surrounded, not just by the familiar names of their neighbours and schoolmates, but by familiar faces, accents and sense of humour," she says.

Ms Aylward is herself a native of Waterford.

An authority on the city's connections with Newfoundland, Prof John Mannion of the Memorial University in St John's, has documented how Waterford merchants were pioneers in trade with Newfoundland from the late 17th century. Earliest among them were Richard Aylward and his son, John Paul.

A century later, other well-known Waterford names associated with the Newfoundland trade were Farrell, Wyse, Rivers and Penrose, and it was from the profits of that trade that the Penroses founded the Waterford Glass factory in 1783.

As well as the leading merchant families, it was working men and women from Waterford, Wexford, Kilkenny and south Tipperary who formed the majority of settlers in the new fishing colony in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Between 1790 and 1830, 35,000 Irish people entered the colony, with Waterford the primary port of embarkation.

Waterford City Council's director of services, Mr Paddy Power, who took part in the visit to St John's, said people there were acutely aware of their Irish heritage.

Mr Power said he hoped that awareness of the connections would be raised on this side of the Atlantic following the twinning ceremony and a symposium concerning the links to be held in Waterford next summer.

The lack of direct flights from Ireland to Newfoundland created practical difficulties, he said, but there was great enthusiasm for the project.

Representatives of the Waterford Chamber of Commerce, South East Tourism, Waterford City Enterprise Board, Garter Lane Arts Centre, Waterford Institute of Technology and the Port of Waterford company had all taken part in the visit and a number of partnership initiatives had been discussed.