By Andy McKeever
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Song and dance is one way to bind two cultures.
Sheila Moffatt is doing just that. Moffatt is the director of a dance school in Ballina, Ireland, that has an overseas operation teaching classes right here in Pittsfield.
American-born dancers now represent the Irish school at events instead of being flown in from overseas.
“The way we can help develop twinning is through cultural activities of Irish music, song and dance. It’s lovely,” Moffatt said on Monday.
Twinning is how the Irish refer to an 18-year-old agreement between Pittsfield and Ballina making the two “sister cities.” On Monday, a group of delegates from the Irish city were honored during a ceremony at City Hall.
“You honor us by being here, really, you do. You make this occasion very special,” Ballina Councillor Michael Loftus said.
In the City Council chambers, Mayor Linda Tyer and City Council President Peter Marchetti welcomed the group that included Moffatt, Loftus, Ballina District Administrative Officer Carmel Murphy, and Lisa and Cian Lavelle — the dancers from the school. The delegation arrived in Berkshire County on Friday and has been spending the days with Pittsfield’s Sister City Commission headed by Andy Kelly and the Irish Sister City Committee headed by Fran Curley.
“It’s just been one event after another,” Curley said.
The delegation marched in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Albany, N.Y., behind the Pittsfield banner; attended the Irish American Club’s Annual St. Patrick’s Day Dinner and Dance at the Elks Club; and joined an Irish dance class at Terpisichore on North Street among the events. Beyond those scheduled events, Curley said the group went shopping at the Lee Outlets and Loftus, a grocery store owner back in his hometown, was shown Market 32.
“I have met so many friends since Friday and I see them here. It is an absolute pleasure to be in their company,” Loftus said.
The relationship leads to sharing ideas and even programs like Moffatt School of Dance started with a Pittsfield class.
Lisa Lavelle, 14, and Cian Lavelle, 9, are both champion dancers for Ballina and showed off their skills at the reception Monday. Lisa Lavelle is a former world and all-Ireland step dancer and Cian is Ireland’s regional champion.
“It’s a huge honor for us to be here today. We are very fortunate. This is the third time we’ve traveled to Berkshire County,” Moffatt said.
The relationship between the two cities has been in place since 1998 with representatives from there visiting here and vice versa throughout that time.
“This one is the one [sister city relationship] we really want to see developed. That’s why we’ve actually spoken about this in council,” Loftus said.
“You know what it’s like to start talking about things in council like budgets and things like that.”
As has been customary during the visits, Tyer exchanged gifts with Loftus. Tyer presented the delegates with Pittsfield pins and hats and copies of this year’s 4th of July Parade poster. In return, the Irish gave Tyer, Marchetti and the heads of the sister city committees a Foxford Woollen Mills throw blankets, a photo book of scenic locations in County Mayo, and a calendar honoring Ballina’s 100-year anniversary of independence.
Joining in the welcoming were state Reps. Tricia Farley-Bouvier and Paul Mark as well as City Councilors Christopher Connell, Anthony Simonelli, and Kevin Morandi.