If a town in the Overstrand makes headlines in Ireland one must automatically assume there was a good reason.
The Connaught Telegraph, a weekly newspaper in County Mayo, Ireland, published a story about Stanford in December after a Claremorris resident, Jarlath Sweeney, visited the town early that month to trace the steps of Sir Robert Stanford (“Retracing Ballinastanford native’s footprint in South Africa”).
This memorable visit was to commemorate the 145th anniversary of the death of the British army captain, also from Sweeney’s town, who gave his name to a village. Not only did Sweeney meet with Dr Annalie Rabie, Mayor of the Overstrand, but he also socialised with the Stanford Heritage Committee, the region’s tourism officers and a representative of the Stanford United Sport Academy. This keen enthusiast of the doings of a fellow countryman also walked down Queen Victoria Road to De Kleine Riviers Valley House, which Sir Robert owned and where he lived from 1838 after serving in the 27th Inniskillin Regiment of Foot.
He also went to see the resting place of one of Sir Robert’s cousins, and checked the Irish family names buried there, such as Walsh, McMahon, Moore and Coen. Sweeney said the reason for his visit was not only to walk in the footsteps of Sir Robert, but also to set in motion a relationship between Claremorris and Stanford, collaborating with business, community projects and sports development. Before his departure, Sweeney made a presentation of Mayo Crystal plaques to the Stanford Heritage Committee and to Rabie on behalf of the Claremorris Historical Society and Claremorris Chamber of Commerce as well as jerseys from the Claremorris GAA, soccer and rugby clubs.
One of the highlights was a visit to John and Irene Tomlinson, present owners of the homestead, which is situated opposite the Dutch Reformed church. Irene entertained with stories of Sir Robert, his family and the house that hosted survivors of the HMS Birkenhead, the troopship wrecked in 1852 at Danger Point, Gansbaai.
With a treasure trove of new information, Sweeney returned to Ireland hoping the bonds he forged will open new doors for Stanford and Claremorris.