I was hoping for a St. Patrick’s Day miracle. I had heard that Forest Park might be sister cities with Cork, Ireland, but was running out of time to verify it before the sacred holiday. My barrage of emails to Cork went unanswered. Finally, Seamus Heaney, chairman of the Cork Convention Bureau, didn’t just respond, he invited us to a luncheon at the Drake Hotel.
Seamus was hosting the luncheon for the Cook County Partners with Ireland Committee. It turns out we’re sister counties, not sister cities. I didn’t care; I was just excited to explore the Drake Hotel for the first time.
We gazed out at Lake Michigan as we drank Guinness and ate salmon, while listening to a presentation about Cork. I learned we became sister counties in 1999 for the purpose of developing cultural, educational and economic ties.
A heartwarming example of our sisterhood was when the committee sponsored a trip to Cork for a group of inner-city boys from Mercy Home. The boys couldn’t believe how safe they felt in Ireland and how welcoming its people are. They engaged in all kinds of new adventures, like sea kayaking and taking a 20-foot plunge from a pier into Cork harbor.
It was literally a life-changing journey for the boys, who have been on a productive path since. The committee hasn’t sponsored any Forest Park kids in this manner, but several years ago, a Cork delegation met with District 91 Superintendent Lou Cavallo to set up a pen-pal program connecting Forest Park students with St. Patrick’s school in Cork County.
Unfortunately, due to the distance and time difference, communication broke down between District 91 and the Cork committee. I believe our students also deserve a St. Patrick’s Day miracle, and I’ll urge Seamus to revive the program.
As difficult as it is to reach the Irish, it’s well worth it. Their friendliness, charm and gift of hospitality are irresistible. I also feel a strong personal connection to Cork. My family prospered there, owning a farm, a pub, and a bakery. We had a government contract to feed the English soldiers in the Cork barracks, until one day the English confiscated everything but our clothes. We had to leave, but Seamus assured me the barracks are still standing.
Seamus described Cork as “a small city with big city possibilities,” which sounds awfully close to Forest Park’s slogan, “Big city access, small town charm.” The similarities between our two towns don’t end there. Like a small village in Cork County, Forest Park’s pubs are within walking distance from our homes and we all know each other’s business.
If you would ever like to drink in the beauty and friendliness of Cork, send an email to Seamus at email@example.com. And tomorrow, let’s all raise a glass to our gorgeous sister county.