A seven-member delegation from Clover returns home this weekend after spending the week making new friends in Larne, Northern Ireland.
While there, Clover Mayor Donnie Burris and Larne Mayor Mark Dunn signed a Sister Cities Agreement. In doing so, Clover joins six municipalities in South Carolina as members of Sister Cities International, a nonprofit citizen diplomacy network that creates and strengthens partnerships between U.S. and international communities. York County signed a similar agreement last year with County Antrim, which includes Larne.
"It was a culmination of a 10-year process," said Burris, calling this week from Larne. "We started out this twinning relationship and never expected it to evolve into what it is today. We've all become such good friends."
The move comes nearly a decade after the towns formed a twinning relationship under the leadership of former Clover Mayor Vance Stine. Clover was hand-picked by the Larne Borough Council after Larne leaders learned some of their ancestors settled in Clover centuries ago, Stine said.
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While twinning primarily focused on heritage and tourism, the sister cities' relationship takes the partnership to the next level, encompassing more global issues such as economic development, trade partnerships and educational exchange programs. As part of Sister Cities International, both groups also are eligible for more resources and grants, said Clover Town Administrator Allison Harvey.
This week's trip marks the first visit to Larne for most of the delegation, which includes Burris, Harvey and her husband, Brad, Town Councilwoman Ann Harvey, Greater Clover Chamber of Commerce President Brent Clinton and Clover's Ulster American Chairman Wes Spurrier, also a Clover town councilman, and his wife, Brantlee.
Upon entering the seaside town on Northern Ireland's eastern coast, the group was met with a sign that said "Welcome to Larne, Sister City to Clover." Clover hopes to post a similar sign in the future, Harvey said.
On the trip, the delegation took in the sights of Northern Ireland, met with Larne Economic Development Co., visited with local entrepreneurs, attended the Larne Rotary Club and discussed joint projects with the Larne Borough Council. They also visited Larne schools with hopes of fostering a student exchange and Internet pen pal program.
Harvey said she hopes the Clover community will take pride in the unique partnership with Larne.
"We need to get some momentum," Harvey said. "We want to get active and raise awareness so people can truly appreciate our history and heritage."
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