• Laurel School Upper Campus Receives Friendship Tree from Sister City Galway, Ireland


    Laurel students with Mayor Ohtaki and Flannery at tree planting ceremony A drizzly Irish day was the perfect backdrop for a gathering of sister cities, friendship trees, and curious school children as a new tree was planted at the Laurel School Upper Campus on March 13, 2018. Menlo Park Mayor Peter Ohtaki was joined by Galway Mayor Pearce Flannery and hosted by Principal Linda Creighton and Assisstant Principal Ellen Kraska of Laurel School, as many Laurel students and staff from the City of Menlo Park and Menlo Park City School District looked on. Mayor Ohtaki began by celebrating the long history of friendship between Menlo Park and Galway and his own special visit to Galway in 2013, a reciprocal visit between mayors that has recurred every year since. Mayor Ohtaki reminded the children of Menlo Park’s commitment to protecting and enjoying its many trees, and pointed out our city’s oak tree symbol. Appropriately, the mature canopy of trees at Laurel’s entry made a welcome dry spot for the ceremony.


    Mayor Flannery noted that back home in Galway, the rainy weather would be just another warm summer day and thanked the children for being the very first people he met during his short trip to Menlo Park. He invited them to come visit Galway where they would always be treated very specially. He wore a traditional chain of office and explained that some of the gold in its insignia dates from 1485 and a piece of gold has been added for every mayor since then. He welcomed questions from the young audience that ranged from “Do you like cats?” (“Yes, but not as well as dogs”) to “What is it like where you live?” Mayor Flannery compared Galway and Menlo Park as very similar towns with educated people, good jobs, many trees, a bustling downtown with shops and restaurants, and much partying – although maybe the Irish take that a little more seriously than the Menlo Parkers!


    The two mayors together finished planting a Sawleaf Zelkova, chosen for lovely fall color and its diminutive size, as it is fittingly planted under the canopy of an elm which was itself a gift tree from a Galway school 55 years ago. A similar planting ceremony with the Menlo Park mayor, Irish dignitaries, and school children took place at the school site on March 15, 1963 for the elm tree.


    Principal Creighton closed the ceremony thanking Mayor Flannery for visiting. He invoked an Irish tradition of requesting a no homework night whenever a dignitary visits a school. The children’s eyes lit up as Principal Creighton agreed to the official request! The ceremony ended with cheering and much celebration of friendship.


    Menlo Park, California and Galway, Ireland have been connected as sister cities since the 1960s, although Menlo Park’s Irish roots began in 1854 when two Irishmen settled here and erected a gate on their property saying “Menlo Park” in honor of the town of Menlough on Lough Corib, County Galway, Ireland from which they came. As the now Caltrain train tracks made their way down the peninsula from San Francisco a few years later, the then final stop of the railway needed a name and “Menlo Park” from the nearby gates fit the bill.


    In the generations that have followed, both our own Menlo Park and Galway, Ireland have prospered and grown into thriving university towns with strong commercial and tourism industries. To celebrate the two cities’ common origin and similar evolutions, the exchange of gifts and dignitary visits has strengthened the relationship over the years. The roots of Laurel’s newest tree will grow deeply amongst the roots of the friendship trees surrounding it, just as Menlo Park’s and Galway’s sisterhood continues to thrive.