Interest in a year-old Donegal Facebook group has exploded in recent months, with hundreds of Twin Towns people from around the world coming together online to share photos, memories and stories.
“We want it to be a positive experience for people from the Twin Towns who are living here or for people who are away from here to feel connected and not so far away from home,” said Mary Deery, who created the Facebook group, “People, places, and memories of the Twin Towns”.
The closed group had about 78 members until about four months ago, but membership now is over 800 and continuing to grow.
Mary left Ballybofey 32 years ago - she lives in Strabane - but she had been thinking of her home place, and of the people and places she knew there. “I was physically removed but not emotionally removed,” she said.
That’s where the idea for the Facebook page came from when Mary started it about a year ago. Administrators on the site are her brother, Shane Deery of Ballybofey, Conor McNulty of Ballybofey and Jonathan Kelly of Stranorlar. Conor and Jonathan are also members of the Ballybofey and Stranorlar and Surrounding Districts Historical Society.
The Facebook group has generated a lot of attention, Jonathan said. “It’s not just photos - it’s the stories,” he said. Group members post photos to the page and each photo can draw dozens of comments, stories and reminiscences. There are photographs of people who have passed on, always leading to fond tributes posted in response. There are casual photos that show life as it has been lived in the Twin Towns over the generations, and photos of landscapes, buildings and streetscapes.
There are photos dating from the early 1900s to just a few years ago, and there is always a story attached. If someone is trying to identify some of the people in a photo, there is usually someone in the group who can help out.
“It’s sharing old memories,” Mary said. “Everybody knows everybody. It’s a small community. Even though it’s two towns it’s a small community.” Each photo starts an online conversation.
Shane said the site has proven particularly popular with people who live far from their Twin Towns roots. Members range from teenagers to people in their 80s -- some who joined Facebook just for the opportunity to be part of the group. There are members across Ireland, England Scotland, as well as from the United States, Canada, Australia, Hong Kong, Japan and Sweden.
Mary, Shane and Jonathan said the group is meant to be a positive thing, and the guidelines for posting emphasise that: Members are reminded that the group is just for people to share stories and photos of the Twin Towns - there are plenty of online forums for engaging in political discussion. And members are asked to respect copyright laws, to treat photos of people with respect and to be respectful in their comments.
Jonathan said all credit should go to Mary for getting the group started, but Mary demurred.
“One person can’t make a group,” she said.