True Blue and Irish Green, Too
Eagle Alumni Fly to Ireland for New Experiences and New Friends
While the first cohort of Georgia Southern students was studying at the Wexford Study Abroad Center, a group of 20 Georgia Southern alumni made their way to County Wexford for a wide-ranging travel experience that brought Ireland’s history, culture and favorite pastimes to life.
As part of the Georgia Southern Alumni Association’s Alumni Travel Program and in partnership with Club Choice Ireland, participants were invited for an eight-day, seven-night stay in Wexford that included excursions to historical sites, rounds of golf near the sport’s birthplace, a tour of Dublin’s most famous brewery and of course a visit to several of the area’s pubs to enjoy local fare and meet its people.
“It was a great mix of people — Georgia Southern alumni from young to old — some that just recently graduated and some that had been graduated for a while,” said Debra Francis (‘87), an alumna and business manager in the Finance Office at Georgia Southern. “They came from all over, lots of different states. It was a smaller group and it was really interesting to see and meet those new people.”
For many of the alumni, however, it was the history of Wexford that was the most interesting part of the trip. The group visited the Dunbrody Famine Ship, a replica of the many ships that left Port New Ross, County Wexford, bound for the docks on River Street in Savannah, Georgia. The exhibit is based largely on research initiated by the faculty and students at Georgia Southern, a fact emphasized on the ship.
“It literally said Georgia Southern students created this research and developed it and understood how the connection between Wexford and Savannah formed,” said Ava Edwards (‘19), director of Alumni Relations. “That was just a wow factor for our alumni.”
The wow factor ran even deeper for alumnus Sean McCormack (‘86), who found an unlikely connection that led to a future invitation back to Ireland.
A former naval aviator, McCormack says it was his first trip to Ireland even though his family are natives of Boston and have deep Irish roots. While he, his wife and the alumni group were visiting the Dunbrody ship, he was talking with some of the town officials who are involved in the John F. Kennedy Summer School in Dunganstown, New Ross, County Wexford, the origin of the Kennedy family. There is a lantern memorial there for JFK with a flame that is always burning, and people go there to give presentations on the town and its families and history.
“And I said, ‘Oh, by the way, you might be interested in the fact that my great uncle was John McCormack, speaker of the house under JFK,’” he recalled. “Their jaws hit the floor.”
The town leaders later contacted McCormack to come back and be a guest lecturer next summer in Dunganstown.
Whether it was the history, the pride of Georgia Southern’s work in Ireland or the welcoming nature of the Wexford residents themselves, participants said the trip was an experience they’ll never forget, and one where they made new lifelong friends.
“My wife and I stay in touch with everybody that went on that trip,” said McCormack. “It was like we made a bunch of new friends. I mean, I think that was the most memorable thing. All the other stuff was great, but when you can really get to know people and make new friends, I think that’s probably the most memorable thing you can expect.”
Edwards says the trip was such a success that a repeat trip is a no-brainer.
“We did not want to leave,” she said. “There were tears shed. It was such an amazing experience. So warm and welcoming. We’re going to do this every year. We’re going to do this every year for sure.” — Doy Cave