A delegation from County Laois, Ireland, left Williamson County on Monday with a sense of camaraderie and overwhelmed by the Southern hospitality the group received while visiting to establish a new Sister Cities relationship.

The delegation was led by the County Laois "Cathaoirleach," which is the Irish word for chairperson. An elected member of the council, Cathaoirleach John Moran was making his second visit to Williamson County, having been part of an exploratory group that visited in March 2007.

This year, the delegation included 39 individuals, including nine dancers with the Gabrielle Lyman School of Dance, who braved the cold weather to dance at Saturday's Féile Franklin. The county's name is pronounced "leash," according to officials.

"Before we came there was a lot of excitement about this," Moran said. "When I went to organize it, we thought we might have 12 or 13 come, but we have 12 councillors out of the 25 we have.

"The hospitality is beyond comprehension to us," Moran said. "Your County Commission Chairman Houston Naron was saying that we may have different weather, we may have different political parties, but we as people can find a common ground. All we hope is that we are able to develop this in some way for the benefit of all of us."

Also making the trip was Frances Roche, County Laois' tourism officer. It was her first time to Tennessee and in the four days the group was here, they were able to visit Williamson County's historic sites, but also Jack Daniels' Distillery, the General Jackson Showboat and downtown Nashville.

"It has been fantastic," Roche said. "I felt it would be great to build on the links we already have in place."

Those links include a four-year relationship with O'More College of Design, which was the backdrop for the official signing of a "twinning" or Sister Cities relationship Friday night between County Mayor Rogers Anderson and Franklin Mayor John Schroer and Moran.

O'More President Mark Hilliard was one of the first to explore the relationship between O'More and County Laois, which is the ancestral home of the O'More family, whose matriarch, the late Eloise Pitts O'More, founded the college. The college is located in the Abbey Leix mansion, which is named after the O'More ancestral home that stands today in County Laois.

"The college, and I, now spend a grand portion of each summer training O'More students in Laois," Hilliard said. "Approximately two years ago the Sister City Board, and this past year the Williamson County Commission, became a partner in this process of articulation, with the culmination of our years of research and building of rapport, ending or rather beginning anew, as we sang, danced, laughed, and signed our way into history on March 7."

A trip is planned this summer as well, Hilliard said, and with the relationship now formalized, O'More and the Sister Cities board will explore new programs, such as a

Williamson County/County Laois student exchange, sharing of art and tourism, and service oriented teaching and learning.

While both countries speak English, many Celtic terms creep into the Irish language, and Hilliard said there is a specific term for the relationship between the two counties.

"In the Celtic language, we are now 'Anam Cara,' which means soul friends," Hilliard said. "Through our newfound relationship, we can each richly participate in the mystery of friendship that threads its way through our entire universe - joining together the County of Laois, Ireland, and the County of Williamson, in the United States."

Cold weather and snow forced the postponement of the first "Celebration of Nations," which was to feature the Irish delegation, as well as Native American culture and visits with representatives from Franklin's first Sister City, Carleton Place, Ontario, Canada. The event will be rescheduled for the O'More campus in the fall, Hilliard said.

© 2008 Williamson Herald

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