Twin our towns!

Derry, New Hampshire's official Town Historian, Richard Holmes (right) with Nuala McAllister Hart, Chairperson of Foyle Civic Trust, and former Mayor Martin Reilly.
Derry, New Hampshire's official Town Historian, Richard Holmes (right) with Nuala McAllister Hart, Chairperson of Foyle Civic Trust, and former Mayor Martin Reilly.

A respected North American historian says Londonderry has everything to gain from the establishment of a formal twinning arrangement with its spiritual and cultural counterpoint across the Atlantic.

Richard Holmes, Derry, New Hampshire’s official Town Historian, made the comments during a flying visit to the North West during which he spoke at the unveiling of a new Ulster History Circle Blue Plaque in memory of his home town’s founding father, Magilligan-native, Rev. James McGregor, in Aghadowey on Monday.

Twice already tentative moves have been made towards the establishment of what could potentially prove a lucrative arrangement in terms of tourist pounds and dollars but Derry City Council policy is currently against formal twinning relationships with anywhere.

But Mr Holmes told the Sentinel the local authority should look at it again.

“It’s a win win situation,” he said. “I really would like to see a twinning. I think it would do well for both countries, and for tourist promotion.”

He explained: “You have so many American tourists going to Dublin because of the whole history thing, their ancestors and so forth, and with 30 million people in America being from Northern Ireland, you would think they would want to promote that because tourism is a clean industry.”

The New Hampshire man, who brought a piece of wood from Rev. McGregor’s old Derry homestead back to Aghadowey, said it made no sense his homeplace was twinned with Vologda Oblast in Russia, but not Londonderry.

“Every year the High School sends a delegation over to Vologda and some visiting firemen come over and see us. But it’s not a perfect match,” he said.

Mr Holmes says the triumvirate of New Hampshire towns of Derry, Londonderry and Windham, is home to a similar population as that of Londonderry, which makes it a great fit.

“If you take the three towns, which were founded by James McGregor. There are about 100,000 people,” he said.

And with its close proximity - a 45 minute drive - to Boston, it also holds its own in terms of occupying a pivotal place in the rich cultural and popular history of the United States.

Enough to lure visitors to the area outside of its links with this part of the world alone.

“Our Derry has so much history that we get kind of blasé. There’s just so much. Alan Shephard, the astronaut, who hit a golf ball on the moon. He was born in Derry.

“America’s greatest poet, Robert Frost - he’s not Seamus Heaney - but he’s from Derry. A signer of the Declaration of Independence, Matthew Thornton, [originally from Ireland] he’s from Derry,” he explained.

Mr Holmes also believes the fact that literary giant, Stephen King’s, mother was a Pillsbury from Derry, surely informed his creation of the fictional town of the same name as a setting for some of his works.

“His mother’s people came from out town,” he said.

So is the ‘Derry’ of ‘It’ and ‘Insomnia’ based on Rev. McGregor’s old stomping ground?

“I think it has to be. There’s no other reason, otherwise. She was Pillsbury. The connection maybe goes back a few generations,” Mr Holmes said.

The Sentinel asked Derry City Council if it would reconsider a twinning move having rejected a proposal in 2012.

A spokesperson for Derry City Council explained that while Derry is not twinned with another city, it has strong relationships with a number of cities based on economic and inward investment opportunities.

“The City has similar relationships with other towns and cities throughout Ireland, the UK and Europe. Any request to develop similar links with Derry New Hampshire would have to be considered by Council,” the Council said.

But two years ago considering and rejecting a Foyle Civic Trust proposal to initiate a formal twinning process, the Council cited documents dating back to 1993 and 2001, which states that Derry City Council does not normally enter into formal twinning arrangements with other locations.