Downey, Irish county are sister cities

DOWNEY - Downey has a new sister city and, for the first time ever, it's not located south of the border. It's located in Roscommon County, Ireland where John Gately Downey, founder of the city of Downey, was born and immigrated from in 1842. The city of Downey was named in his honor in 1873.

At Tuesday's council meeting, where the resolution to adopt Roscommon County as Downey's sixth sister city was formally proposed and passed without a hitch, the council's unanimous and affirmative vote was greeted with lusty applause.

"It's about time," said Mayor Mario Guerra, who pointed out it was he who, as early as 2009, when the Art in Public Places program was in the limelight, began to seriously press for forging relationships with a European city.

Not that there's anything wrong with Downey's sister cities in the south, but the opportunity to hook up with Europe was too good to pass up, he said. The buzz involving John Gately Downey began to build in 2009 when initially a full-size statue of the intrepid Irishman was envisioned to be erected in front of City Hall.

The city finally had to settle for a life-size bronze bust of Downey's founding father, which was unveiled on Dec. 7, 2010. It is identical to the one set up by the Roscommon County Council, in collaboration with the Taughmaconnel Historical Society, to commemorate him in the village (Taughmaconnel) of his birth. Funds for the sculpture came from the Downey's Art in Public Places fund.

A letter dated 11 December 2012 then arrived in Guerra's mail that said that, in view of the obvious connection between the two cities, the Roscommon City Council is "anxious to forge links with [Downey] City Council and hopes that becoming sister cities would become the mechanism to do this.

"In order to commence the process, Roscommon County Council would like to invite you and other representatives from Downey to visit Governor Downey's birthplace in 2013 and also for a special event for our Twinned Towns/Sister Cities partners on May 24, 2013... There are great opportunities for links in the areas of heritage, economic development, culture and tourism."

It was signed Tommy Ryan, Director of Services (for Roscommon County).

Ryan indicated that Roscommon has twinning partners all over France, the U.K., and the U.S.A. Now that Roscommon County is a sister city, preparations are being made to join the festivities in Ireland. The effort is a joint one, with Downey Sister Cities Association playing the other major role.

The Downey Sister Cities Association was formed in 1956 in response to President Eisenhower's call for cities of different countries and cultures to engage in mutual activities and programs to cultivate friendship and people-to-people interactions to advance student, cultural, professional, government, even athletic programs.

Downey, under the auspices of the Downey Sister Cities Association, was the first city to establish an affiliation with a city in Mexico. That first affiliation was signed on Aug. 26, 1960 with the city of Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico. According to one press release, from this affiliation grew programs including such educational, business, and cultural exchanges as education and training for the establishment of the first paramedic program in the state of Jalisco, as well as earthquake training preparedness, and donations of medical equipment and supplies.

Since then, Downey has to its credit formed four other sister cities affiliations--with , Ensenada in Baja California, Valle of San Quintin, Fresnillo in Zacatecas, which are all in Mexico, and Alajuela, which is in Costa Rica-and accordingly undertaken several enriching cross-cultural projects with them.

May of 2009 was a major highlight for the association: it sent some Downey Fire members to conduct a 5-day firemen and civil protection training program in Fresnillo, while it gifted a fire truck to the city. An 8-member Downey Fire team was subsequently dispatched to Fresnillo to train its fire department on how to operate and maintain the truck.

Because of the invitation from Ireland, the Downey Sister Cities Association is scheduling a series of fundraisers from now to May, said its current president, Robert Rubio, to pay for the trip to Ireland to attend "The Gathering" of all of Roscommon's international partners on May 24.

The first fundraising event, he said, will be at Frantone's Pizza for dinner from 5 to 10 p.m. with 25 percent of the sales income going to the organization. In April 6, from about 4 to 7 p.m., Downey Sister Cities will host a VIP reception at the Columbia Space Center. A third fundraising dinner is being planned at Bob's Big Boy for later in the month.

Rubio said the Downey Sister Cities Association usually has a booth at the Chamber Street Faire, and, to boost membership the association is offering a $15 membership fee for a single, and $25 for a couple.

Any person wishing to join the delegation to Ireland must first become a member, he said.

********** Published: February 28, 2013 - Volume 11 - Issue 46

Features, NewsEric Pierce