Wednesday 23 October 2019

Celebrating our American links

Niall Wall with Prof Howard Kealy at Enniscorthy Castle
Niall Wall with Prof Howard Kealy at Enniscorthy Castle
The Carrigbyrne Pike Choir at the Athenaeum

Town and Country Life - Maria Nolan

Wexford's American City - that is how a group of young students and their professors from Georgia University described their hometown of Savannah at a function in their honour at Enniscorthy Castle and the Athenaeum on Thursday evening June 8.

The group of 12 are here in Wexford and particularly Enniscorthy as part of the WexSav Axis to establish the links between our two parts of the world. As Professor Howard Kealy put it, paraphrasing Wexford's most famous song, Boolavogue, 'the green flag floated from the Wexford shore to the Savannah one and is still flying high there today'.

The 1860 Savannah census shows one in every four of Savannah's citizens as Irish and no county was better represented than Wexford. All due to one William Kehoe who went from the Monamolin area and ended up owning his own Iron Foundery employing mostly Irish immigrants and in particular Wexford ones, and these visiting students with names like Daly, Brennan, Rossiter, Devereux, Sinnott, Corish, Stafford and more are here researching the family connections between our neighbouring worlds.

The WexSav Axis Committee - Maree Lyng, Richie Cotter, Jimmy Gahan and Cathy Keane - had a full programme of events for the visitors, beginning with a parade from Market Square to the Castle led by Piper Liam Doyle and Enniscorthy Historical Reenactment Society. At the Castle the Re-enactors formed a Guard of Honour for the group to enter, where they enjoyed a delicious meal catered by the Holy Grail and were presented with gifts by Vice Chairman of Enniscorthy Municipal District Council Keith Doyle and Town Manager Liz Hore.

From there it was on to the Athenaeum where the Carrigbyrne Pike Choir who have visited Savannah in both 2010 and 2012 beautifully performed Carrigfergus, Danny Boy and Poor Wayfaring Stranger before being joined by the Savannah group for an emotional and rousing rendition of Boolavogue.

The eloquent Jimmy Gahan then introduced local historian Aidan Ryan who said that he wouldn't speak about his favourite subjects Eileen Gray and Pugin but rather gave a most informative account of the Norman Invasion of Wexford and the Cromwellian Plantation. Unfortunately, Aidan said, most of our records have either been destroyed intentionally or accidentally making it difficult for the students' research but there were people in the audience like the Rath sisters who would be most willing to assist in any way they could.

The Savannah students then made a superb presentation on Savannah and its Wexford connection, informing the audience that William Kehoe's Iron Foundery site is about to be transformed into a stadium for concerts, seminars and conferences keeping with the Wexford story in Savannah and his home is about to be opened to the public as it was when he lived there. According to the students Savannah is driven by heritage tourism with 14 million tourists visiting per annum - so that is fourteen million hearing about the Wexford story, how bad can that be for us here?

The lovely evening ended with Professor Howard Kealy saying that Savannah is a beautiful and welcoming city and now he knows how that came to be because he says Wexford is a beautiful and welcoming county. Jimmy Gahan replied by saying the door of Wexford friendship will always be open to Savannah and called on local singer Niall Wall to close proceedings with the fabulous Cuchulainn's Son.

What a truly wonderful project and who knows what amazing things it may bring to all our futures.

Enniscorthy Guardian