Dunkeld and Birnam become Asheville’s newest sisters

Community members and dignitaries celebrated Asheville’s newest international relationship on Sept. 10 at Highland Brewing Co. Photo by Michael Oppenheim

The small Scottish cities of Dunkeld and Birnam recently became Asheville’s latest international siblings, with events in Scotland Aug. 18-20 and a ceremony in Asheville on Sept. 10. Over five years in the making, the new relationship adds a seventh pairing to Asheville’s formal Sister Cities relationship roster, joining Vladikavkaz, Russia; San Cristóbal de las Casas, Mexico; Saumur, France; Karpenisi, Greece; Valladolid, Mexico; and Osogbo, Nigeria.

At the Asheville ceremony, Mayor Esther Manheimer officially welcomed delegates from the two communities in Perthshire, Scotland and signed a proclamation declaring the special relationship that now exists between Asheville and Dunkeld and Birnam. Rep. Susan Fisher also attended the event at Highland Brewing Co.

At a celebration on Aug. 19 in Scotland, National Public Radio’s Fiona Ritchie said, “This twinning follows years of planning, and a weekend of intense dedication, from many residents of our community who were excited about the potential of the twinning invitation we’d received from Asheville. We’re looking forward to building all sorts of connections for the benefit of both communities, as we have so much in common.” Ritchie, who founded and hosts NPR’s The Thistle & Shamrock, also serves as chair of Dunkeld and Birnam Friends of Asheville, N.C., the group behind the effort to develop the sister cities’ agreement.

According to Asheville Sister Cities representative Rick Lutovsky, “There is a growing interest in developing this sister city relationship drawing upon our many common characteristics and interests: the considerable Scottish ancestral roots throughout the Southern Appalachians; parallel economic characteristics such as art, music, recreation and tourism; the striking physical beauty of our two settings; education; health affairs including an holistic approach to wellness; a strong sense of community; the Presbyterian (Church of Scotland) heritage; and, an abiding love of nature and commitment to stewardship of the surrounding physical environment.”

A press release from Asheville Sister Cities outlines even more reasons the two locations are especially copacetic:

It all makes perfect sense when you have a browse through the history books. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Scots-Irish immigrants heavily settled the Asheville area. They seeded a music tradition throughout the Southern Appalachians, along with many other customs. The Annual Grandfather Mountain Highland Games, held near Linville (northeast of Asheville), can’t quite boast the longevity of the Birnam Games (founded in 1864). It does, however, date back more than 60 years and is one of North America’s most renowned Highland gatherings, drawing crowds of 30,000 across four days of events. The spectacular mountain setting secures its reputation as one of the best celebrations of Scottish culture in North America. Asheville is also the site of Biltmore House, America’s largest private home. Built by George Washington Vanderbilt between 1889 and 1895, and still owned by his descendants, the French-style renaissance castle has stunning views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the French Broad River. Overlooking the River Tay, the 15th-century Murthly Castle near Birnam will make for a fascinating “twin” across the miles and the centuries.

Much more connects the contemporary communities. Ashevillians sometimes refer to their city as “Foodtopia” and it is home to dozens of local tailgate markets, all selling farm-fresh produce and artisan goods from bakers, cheese makers and more who all converge each week to provide the best in locally sourced produce. Dunkeld and Birnam’s community orchard and organic growing project “The Field,” along with its seasonal stalls and “Fieldfare” work-for-food project, are a reflection of a community spirit that these “Soul Sisters” share. And for real ale enthusiasts, Asheville is proud to claim more breweries per capita than any other U.S. city.

Western North Carolina and Perthshire are each known worldwide for their spectacular autumn colors. Western North Carolina has a tremendous variety of trees; the Smoky Mountains hosts 120 species, the greatest variety anywhere in the United States. Like Dunkeld and Birnam’s Perthshire Amber and Niel Gow Festivals, Asheville also shares a particular passion for music, from the traditional songs and tunes brought to the area by Scotch-Irish settlers, to the legends of what was once called “mountain music”: Jimmie Rodgers, Doc Watson and the Steep Canyon Rangers. They have all contributed to Asheville’s vibrant cultural scene where Old Time, Bluegrass, Celtic and singer-songwriter scenes thrive. Many are taught and performed through the summer months at the nearby Swannanoa Gathering folk arts workshops. Celebrating its 26th anniversary this year, the Gathering has already hosted participants from Dunkeld and Birnam.

For more information, visit the Facebook group for supporters of the Dunkeld and Birnam connection with Asheville or www.ashevillesistercities.org.

All photos by Michael Oppenheim

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