CLOVER -- Charlotte Jackson didn't know what to expect when she and her husband Dick first agreed to host visitors from Larne, Northern Ireland.
"We didn't know if it was going to be a one-year thing or a lasting friendship," she said.
It was the latter.
The first year, they hosted Roy Biggs and Liam Kelly, who came to attend Clover's first Feis Chlobhair, a Scotch-Irish festival started to honor the town's then-twin relationship with Larne.
In the 12 years since the initial visit, the families have visited each other and developed such close bonds that when the Jackson's daughter Brantlee married, the Kellys came to the wedding. The Jacksons even twinned their restaurant Jackson's Kitchen with an American-themed restaurant in Larne, called the Pinky Moon.
This week, Liam Kelly and Fred Andrews, who have worked with Clover leaders to expand the twinning into a sister cities relationship, were back in town to attend Feis Chlobhair.
Once again, they were welcomed into the Jackson's home.
"They're marvelous hosts," Kelly said.
It's this kind of friendship that makes the sister city relationship and Feis Chlobhair so meaningful, Jackson said.
"It's amazing the people that we have met over the years and the friendships that have developed," she said.
During their visit, Kelly and Andrews met with local groups and toured the area. They gave a presentation at the Clover Library about the historical connection of Larne and Clover.
"I'm trying to give people here a feel for the way their ancestors lived, spoke and how they survived in those days and what forced them to leave Northern Ireland and come to America," said Kelly, who was chairman of the committee that approached Clover about the twinning relationship.
Many of the immigrants were forced to leave because of penal laws and bad government, he said. The first ship to leave was the Friends Goodwill which took four months to reach Boston.
"Some of those people on that ship had never even seen the sea in their lives," Kelly said. "They had come from inland."
The idea of reconnecting with immigrants started while he and others were working to get a monument built to honor the immigrants who left from Larne, which was the first immigrant port in Ireland.
"We were working also to find a place we could twin with, somewhere we could relate to," he said. "We found through different ways and means that Clover seemed to be an ideal place."
Andrews said it's clear when you walk through the cemeteries and look at headstones, many Clover residents are descended from Larne.
"When you come here, we find a lot of familiar names," Andrews said "A lot of the names are the same, like the Jacksons and so on. They are very, very common names back home."
He said he's glad to see ties between the towns getting stronger as schools and churches start to write each other and residents from the towns visit each other.
So what would make the ties stronger?
"The first marriage would be doing very well," Kelly said laughing. "If someone from here would marry one of ours or vice versa."
For now, he'll be content just to have more people visit his homeland.
"I think we just want to see more and more people come to Northern Ireland to just experience the beautiful country that it is," he said. "We have so much to offer."