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HomeThis Week /  Arranmore Island - Beaver Island Twinning Celebration.

Arranmore Celebration and "Twinning"
by Rich Gillespie

     After many years of discussion the idea of "twinning" Beaver Island, Michigan and Arranmore, County Donegal, Ireland finally came to being on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2000. Twenty-seven residents of Arranmore along with fifty Chicago transplants and relatives arrived on Beaver Island after a very "brisk" trip on the motorship "Emerald Isle"; oops, I should say that fifty of them missed the boat (luckily) and had to be flown over because their bus was late.  It all turned out very well, though.  The party at the Holy Cross Parish Hall started a little late but eventually everyone (except for seven who were too chicken to fly) arrived at the Hall to be treated to a potluck dinner provided by all of the Island folk, along with barbequed pork cooked by our master chefs, Denny Madigan, Don Bair, and Gordy Hays (who was too kind, since it was his birthday).  Much thanks to the ladies of the Altar Society

     Prior to leaving Charlevoix, this writer, who had foolishly gone over to meet the group, got a chance to exchange stories with some of them. One man was asked what he was going to do when he got to Beaver Island, to which he quickly replied, "Party like a rock star." He didn't get much of a chance to party on the trip over however!  Upon leaving the channel I asked Mike if it was the same one we had come in because the conditions were very much changed. At times during the crossing there were seas as big as twelve feet. All this happened in four hours time, since there wasn't a wave when we arrived at Charlevoix. The trip actually took 3 hours and 20 minutes!  It was rough! This basically was the tenor of the whole weekend.

     After some very difficult miles had passed (yours truly hid in Anthony Greene's van on the car deck), and after Brian Antkoviak passed out nearly the entire stock of barf bags, we arrived at the southeastern shore of Beaver Island for a leisurely run up the coast. Most people were feeling a little better (even me) when we made the turn for Beaver Harbor.  Several of the Arranmore people got their cameras out and took snapshots as we passed the lighthouse and arrived at Paradise Bay.  Many commented on how beautiful it was.

     Everyone disembarked and made their way to the motels or homes they were assigned, to freshen up (and brush their teeth). They were all greeted at the Hall by an enthusiastic group of Beaver Islanders anxious to hear about Arranmore. Soon the rest of the gang who were flown in arrived. All sat down and enjoyed a great meal sponsored by the Altar Society. Posters by Bill Gillespie were sold to raise money for the public playground; they were nicely done, depicting both Arranmore and Beaver Islands in the background with each community's lighthouse and ferry boat(s). They were also adorned with pictures of Mary Bert (Boyle) McDonough and Lucille (Gillespie) Osborne, both of whom passed away  this year at 96 years of age and were descendants of Arranmore. Complimentary posters were given to our guests.

     After dinner, conversation and beverages flowed freely. Barry Pischner entertained with a few ballads, followed by Ed Palmer, Dan Gillespie, and Rich Scripps, who is becoming quite the fiddle player!  Several of the Arranmore folk got up and sang: Hugh Boyle, Charley McGinley, and Phil "Bohn" Boyle, amongst others. We raffled out more than thirty gifts presented by Island businesses, with nearly all of them going to the Arranmore folk (actually it was rigged!)

     Many stayed right to the end, and some were just played out from a long day's ride on the bus.  Some even stayed out 'til 4:30 in the morning!  Everyone had a great time. On Saturday, the tours began.  This writer doesn't know much about that; he was shanghied to provide a private tour for Dale Cull, Patsy Sweeney, Michael Boyle, Tony (the Post) Gallagher and his wife, Dominick Gallagher and Tony (Achille Man) Gallagher. This tour started out pretty innocently but later turned into the funniest excursion of the trip.  Between Dale Cull and myself we told every story (or lie) that we could possibly think of and kept our guests in stitches or wondering what rock we had climbed out from. Then the Achille man started. He claimed to be from religious royalty (actually he told us he was a direct descendant of Father Peter Gallagher who was Beaver Island's first priest). Well, we lit into him! At every turn we started asking for his blessing or his approval, or whatever, and he was only too glad to oblige. There is no question that it became one of those "had to be there scenarios", but take my word for it, it was very, very funny.

     Both museums opened (Print Shop and Marine) for a complimentary tour for our guests. They were very impressed with the respect we paid to our Irish and nautical heritage.  Even though these people come from our Irish ancestral home they were so taken by Beaver Island's history it left us surprised. After the museums there was a tour of Jerry LaFreniere's garage (thank you, Jerry) and his 800+ pictures and many artifacts of Island history and shipping.  There were plenty of favorable comments about what they saw.  Mary Beth (Greene) Nelson's note to me referenced remarks they made, such as, "This is grand!" "They were amazed at the beautiful fall colors, straight roads, similarities of the Island and its people, and the hospitality. Many were interested in their family history of those who came to Beaver Island from Arranmore so many years ago. Thank you to all those involved in planning this wonderful weekend."

     After the museums and Jerry's it was time for the "twinning" ceremony, which was switched from the point to the (very) recently named "Arranmore Park," which is on the site of the power plant overlooking the bay that was torn down this year.  The St. James Township board took action Wednesday evening prior to this event and made the park "official."  My father who ran that power plant for 45 years couldn't have been prouder and I wish he had been here to witness the whole thing. Township Supervisor Don Vyse offered his kind words followed by an invocation from Father Martin Doohan.  There was a State Senate resolution offered by Senators Philip Hoffman (now O'Hoffman) and Walter North (read by this writer.)  Copies of the resolution were prepared for each of those attending from Ireland ( a great gesture by our Senators) as well as copies for the Arranmore Historical Society and the Beaver Island Historical Society and Township offices. There was also a Congressional Resolution offered by Congressman Bart Stupak (read by Bill McDonough) which congratulated both Islands on the preservation of their unique cultural bond and future as "twins."

     Anthony Gallagher (commonly known as "Tony the Post", Arranmore postmaster) gave a speech in Gaelic (Irish) followed by an English translation (thank God, or we would still be scratching our heads). After that the drape was pulled from a sign made from lumber from "Paud Een Og's" farm, which was engraved with the name and date of the dedication.  Members of the youngest of the Islands did the honors, Kaitlyn Boyle (daughter of Neal and Connie) and Bailey McDonough representing Beaver Island and a charming young lass representing Arranmore. Then everyone dispatched for cocktails or to freshen up for the evening.

     I escorted a group out to "White Dan" Greene's farm off King's Highway later that evening.  We left in a recently acquired 1962 Cadillac. I believe Father Doohan may have felt he was close to heaven, and Corneilus Bonner (head of the Donegal ferry group) constantly remarked about all of the chrome. They all were quite taken with the comfort of the old Greene farm. Owenie Greene, a relative of the Beaver Island Greens, hadn't been on Beaver Island in at least thirty years.

     At that point it was off to the "Beachcomber Tavern" for the balance of the evening.  The place was just packed with people (keep in mind, the Phil Gregg roast was going on at the Parish Hall; this writer regrets not getting up there to tell a tale or two). Our Irish friends picked up rather quickly on the "Beaver Island Stomp," and entertained us all with some of their fancy dance steps. Ed Palmer and the boys did a great job of providing authentic music.  Many of the Arranmore singers again performed, thrilling the large crowd.  When that place closed down, and after I had rejected the notion of a gathering at my house, many descended on Kathy Maudries until 6:00 in the morning. I am told they sang "The Green Fields of France" two hundred and seven times, followed by my sister Julie introducing them to the "Chinaman Song" which was taught to all Gillespie kids at a very young age.  My father learned it from a Scottish man who lived on High Island during the House of David era.  This man was a pipefitter and helped to put the boilers in the Titanic, singing this all the while.

     Sunday morning (for those who got out of the sack), Father Martin Doohan and Father Patrick Cawley said mass.  Father Doohan said much of the mass in Gaelic, followed by a presentation for the Donegal County Council commemorating the "twinning." At 11:00 am our friends collected on the Emerald Isle for departure, not before joining in singing, "It's A Long Way To Beaver Island", "Old Lang Syne", and the "Irish National Anthem."  As the ferry pulled away from the dock there was an Arranmore man on the port side stern waving the Red, White and Blue and another on the starboard corner waving the Orange, White and Green. There were few dry eyes on the dock. A fitting close to a remarkable weekend. 

And to think this all happened in roughly thirty-six hours!!

     Dale Cull reported that they called him when they all arrived back in Chicago Sunday night, bubbling with gratitude and, according to Patsy Sweeney, "There was nothing but a constant chatter on the bus ride back to Chicago, and appreciation for the good time and good friends they had made." Now Patsy, who quit the drink some years ago, also informed Dale Cull that he rarely frequents the pubs anymore but he fell in love with the Beachcomber!  This writer can tell you, as one witness, they brought one heck of a lot of atmosphere with them!

     The significance of the weekend to those of us who still cling to this heritage is hard to describe.  I only wish that people of my father's generation, and Mary Bert and Aunt Lucille and many, many others, could have been here to see this happen. People with roots and remembrances of the actual emigrants.  That is the only way I could see this event being any better. Be that as it may, there were friendships forged and relationships rediscovered that would have been lost with time.  For that we are all grateful to a long list of people who worked on this event, sadly too many to mention. There is a reciprocal "twinning" being planned, perhaps for next May. For those interested in being on a mailing list (e-mail only) please respond to this writer.

- Slainte', Rich Gillespie




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