For the first time, city leaders held a video conference Wednesday with officials from across the Atlantic Ocean in LaGrange’s sister city of Craigavon, Northern Ireland.
Although there was a five-hour time difference, Craigavon’s group and LaGrange officials could have been sitting on a porch drinking sweet tea with next-door neighbors. The groups asked about each other’s families, what their children are doing, and when Lukken and his crew will return to Ireland and vice versa.
For such a high-tech meeting spanning such a big pond, it had a lot of Southern charm.
“We want to issue all of y’all in this high-tech form a beautiful Margaret Ross hug,” Lukken said with a laugh, which was carried over by the group in Ireland.
Ross, president of LaGrange International Friendship Exchange, which maintains the sister city relationships with Craigavon and other cities, smiled behind the camera. She traveled last year to Belfast, Northern Ireland, with Ray Coulombe, LaGrange’s business development manager, for a Sister Cities conference.
Craigavon has been a sister city of LaGrange for more than a decade. The two groups have shared culture, art and some residents during that time, including LaGrange Art Museum director Megan Johnston, who was more than happy to see a few familiar faces from her eight-year stint in the Irish borough.
“I just wanted to say Jeff, I think this is fantastic that we could link up like this,” said Craigavon’s mayor, Alderman Stephen Moutray. “The only dark side is, I suppose we won’t get into the habit of jumping across the Atlantic.”
Lukken replied, “Mayor, we would love to issue an invitation to all of you to visit LaGrange whenever you have the chance. We don’t want to save it for just the summer time.”
The groups discussed a number of topics written out on a short agenda. Irish gospel musician and Craigavon resident Colin Elliot, along with country singer George Hamilton IV, sang for the two groups - a warmup for their Friday concert on Lafayette Square.
After the agenda dwindled, the two groups bid their adieus, and the computers were shut off.
For once, it may not be as long until the two city groups can meet again and discuss how much hotter it is in the South rather than in Ireland.
“I just wanted to bring greetings on behalf of the citizens of Craigavon at this time to our friends across the Atlantic,” Moutray said. “We hope that everything is going well with you there, and we look forward to continuing the friendship that we have had with LaGrange over the past number of years.”
Trey Wood can be reached at twood @ lagrangenews. com or (706) 884-7311, Ext. 228.