Dingle: Our Sister City

Artist Thomas Van Stein Talks Sister City Committee Visit to Ireland

Dingle: she’s our Sister City. A small town of under 2,000 residents, the seaside Irish city on the far west side of the island nation shares a kinship with our own through the Sister Cities International diplomacy program. Dingle will be the subject of an upcoming dinner meeting and presentation by the Santa Barbara/Dingle Ireland Sister City Committee at Mulligan’s Café (3500 McCaw Ave.) on Wednesday, July 12, beginning at 6 p.m. Mayor Helene Schneider and S.B. artist Thomas Van Stein will speak about their recent trips to Dingle. I talked to Van Stein about what drew him to Dingle and what summer life is like in the Sister City.

What brought you to Ireland? I’ve always had a fascination and an ear for Irish music, and then I’ve raised my kids with that awareness of Irish music, and I love to play it, as well. I knew Willy Quinn, and Willy invited me to the Sister Cities meeting. I told Willy I wanted to go to his native land; it was one of the only countries in the world I have not been to, and I was thinking about going in June …. I went to the meeting, and this voice spoke up and said, “Well you should come with us! We’re going next week.” It was the mayor, Helene Schneider. … I wound up arriving to Ireland three days in advance of anyone else, sort of like the advanced recon. …

I made my way down to Dingle in advance of everybody else and covered a lot of ground: In one day, we took 15,000 steps in one day. I met a lot of the local artists, interviewed them, took pictures of their work. My vantage point was to eventually set up some form of an exchange program between the artist colony of Santa Barbara and the artist colony of Dingle. When the mayor arrived with other Santa Barbarans, I ended up having meals with them, and as a result, meeting with some from the Dingle Business Chamber and having dignitary meetings, and I kind of fit right in there.

What struck you as a similarity between Dingle and Santa Barbara? Number one was the art programs they have. It attracts a lot of innovation and creativity. A lot of the people who do settle there work creatively from various media of woodworking and sculpting and music. Music is a huge part of Dingle. It’s so amazing to go to the different bars or pubs — it seems everybody that’s a local there carries around some form of a musical instrument. You never know what can happen. They might be in a mood and pull out a penny whistle or guitar, and you have other musicians that will show up spontaneously and start playing, and you’ll have these incredible jam sessions out of nowhere, impromptu, in these bars and pubs.

The Irish culture has, in my opinion and from what I’ve truly seen now, had such an impact on the rest of the world, especially through their music. That’s what drew me there. Another thing that was a parallel: They have their own version of a solstice parade. May 1 is their first day of summer, Beltane, and they have a parade. We all wore this year’s solstice T-shirt, all seven of us. We got ourselves decorated and painted, and we marched in the parade, and that was a lot of fun. A very small version of our solstice parade, but nonetheless, a very great contribution to the Sister City program …. People came from not only from Dingle, but all over Ireland. There was even a contingent there from Switzerland that was there to march in the parade.

Why should people check out Wednesday night’s event and learn about Dingle? They should come because it is a safe part of the world. It’s almost like a neighboring city. You can leave Santa Barbara and go and feel completely at home there; it’s amazing. The people are so gracious and happy and fun, and they celebrate art and diversity and unity. It’s gonna be fun. That’s the bottom line!


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