Recently, the Santa Clara Sister Cities Association’s board of directors, Cultural Commission, and City Council signed a Memorandum of Understanding to establish a permanent relationship between the City of Santa Clara and the City of Limerick, Ireland. The signing of the MOU, written by Kathy Watanabe, Raj Chahal, Michael O’Halloran and Spike Standifer, is one of the final steps required to allow Limerick to join Coimbra, Portugal and Izumo, Japan as one of Santa Clara’s sister cities.
“Both our cities are going through transformations in terms of economy and technology, and there are opportunities to build a relationship that will be mutually beneficial,” says Watanabe, president of the Sister Cities Association. Watanabe is a descendent of Turlough O’Carolan, a famous Irish bard and composer of harp music.
Later this summer, Mayor Jamie Matthews and the Lord Mayor of Limerick, Michael Sheahan, will formally sign the MOU at the Sister Cities International conference in San Jose.
“Nobody has signed an MOU to establish a sister cities relationship at a conference before, so this is a first,” says Debi Davis, former Sister Cities Association president and current councilmember. “We haven’t had a new sister city in 30 years. It took almost seven years to establish this relationship. In 2010, I visited Limerick with Patty Mahan while she was mayor. I have some Irish ancestry.”
Andy Ratermann, former Sister Cities Association president and current school board member, is half-Irish and belongs to the O’Dea clan.
“In 2009, we arranged to have Wilcox High School’s marching band visit Limerick, and then Limerick sent a group of kids over here,” Ratermann says. “In 2011, I accompanied Santa Clara High School’s marching band to Limerick. When this band visited Ireland, they played their music during Mass in an Irish cathedral. The Mass was webcast and the children’s parents back in America got to see their kids perform live. In 2013, the Friends of Limerick visited the city again. The group was started by me to allow Santa Clara youth to visit Limerick.”
Rushton Hurley, former chair of the city’s International Exchange Commission and executive director of Next Vista for Learning, says that his father’s family has roots in southern Ireland.
“While I was IEC chair, I spoke at meetings with the Sister Cities organization,” Hurley says. “I met with people in Limerick, visited a rotary club, and spoke at the Salesian Secondary School. The first group of students who came to visit Santa Clara from Limerick came from this school.”
“Back then, there was a Sister Cities international policy regarding a city [not being able to have] a relationship with more than one city in a particular country, and Limerick already had an existing relationship with Spokane, Washington,” Watanabe says. “So Santa Clara wasn’t able to form a permanent sister city relationship with Limerick. But, it entered a Memorandum of Understanding to be a friendship city in 2010. Debi Davis was president of Sister Cities at this time, and she oversaw this. In November 2013, Sister Cities International considered changing that policy. We reached out to John Hartnett, part of the delegation that [advocated for the relationship]. John put me in contact with representatives in Limerick.”
“There are 4,500 people of Irish ancestry living in Santa Clara, and we hope this new relationship will draw out this community and help promote the culture of Ireland and other activities important to people of Irish ancestry,” Watanabe continues. “We want to go beyond student exchanges. We also want to promote environmentalism, entrepreneurship, culture, and athletics among participating exchange students, and among Santa Clara University and the University of Limerick. We need to establish a Limerick committee to oversee the development of this new relationship. We want Santa Clarans to help, and they don’t have to be Irish. Interested people can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.”