WIT and JFK Trust to study link to ‘Deep South’

Savannah in the American State of Georgia probably doesn’t carry the same resonance as St John, Newfoundland when it comes to the historical narrative of the south east’s relationship with North America. However, that may not remain the case for too much longer.

An insightful column by Simon Carswell in last weekend’s Irish Times did not escape Munster Express eyes – and thankfully so, in a piece which contained some fascinating details about the ties binding New Ross and the region to the American ‘Deep South’.

The city’s Catholic cemetery, Carswell wrote, was described by Fr Kevin Boland (a Cork native who served as bishop there between 1995 and 2011) as “the ultimate archive” of Savannah’s Irish heritage.

The writer states: “Many Irish emigrants arrived in Georgia on schooners than ran a busy shipping route ferrying goods and people between the ports of New Ross and Wexford, and Savannah.”

A history of the link between County Wexford and Savannah, written by Monsignor Lory Kehoe, recorded that most Irish emigrants arrived in Georgia between 1848 and 1865, the concluding year of the American Civil War.

Carswell adds: “He noted that the Irish connections with Savannah long predated the Famine. The mother of British general James Oglethorpe, who founded Savannah in 1733, was a Wall from Co Tipperary.”

Intriguingly, and one suspects this is a topic which this newspaper shall investigate itself in due course, Carswell notes that a research project was recently initiated between Waterford Institute of Technology, Georgia Southern University, Savannah’s Georgia Historical Society and the New Ross-based John F Kennedy Trust.

Its purpose? “To find out how many people from south east Ireland ended up in the southeastern US,” according to Carswell in his ‘American Letter’ column.

“When people consider the Irish in America, they think of the cities of New York, Boston and Chicago,” he added.

“But here, much further south in Savannah, there is a rich and unique Irish-American culture.”

Given the many successes that the JFK Trust has recorded in recent years, in particular a galvanising of the relationship between the Kennedy family and its Dunganstown roots, one suspects the Georgia link is one well worth pursuing.

Dermot Keyes

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