The Center for Irish Research and Teaching (CIRT)
An tIonad um Thaighde agus Theagasc Éireannacha
Founded in 1995, the Center for Irish Research and Teaching (CIRT) flies the flag for Ireland and advances Irish America in the University System of Georgia, whose 26 member institutions serve 320,000 students. An academic and outreach unit of the 27,000-student Georgia Southern University (GS), CIRT is proud to call historic Savannah, Georgia, home. In August 2019, CIRT moved into a new headquarters space on the university’s Armstrong Campus, a Southside Savannah location near St. Joseph’s Hospital, which Irish Roman Catholic nuns, the Mercy Sisters, founded in 1875.
CIRT also maintains a full-service presence on GS’s largest campus, 50 miles (80.5 kilometers) inland from Savannah, in Statesboro, Georgia. Opened in 1906, that campus is deemed one of America’s most beautifully landscaped sites of higher learning. In addition, CIRT drives forward Global Hub-Ireland, a Georgia Southern initiative in Wexford Town, Ireland, that complements European investments by our sibling USG institutions, such as: Georgia Tech Lorraine (France); UGA at Oxford (England); and Kennesaw State University in Tuscany (Italy).
Committed to the principle of the University Without Walls, CIRT boasts a stellar record of service to stakeholder communities in Savannah, across Georgia, and into the South Carolina Low Country. Undoubtedly, it has been — and very much continues to be — one of the most productive university units as regards Community Engagement, Pillar #5 of Georgia Southern’s five-pillar Strategic Plan.
Addresses • Phone Numbers • Email
Unit 10 • Armstrong Center • Georgia Southern University Armstrong Campus • 11935 Abercorn Street • Savannah • GA 31419
CIRT in Statesboro
Room 2010 • Interdisciplinary Academic Building • Georgia Southern University Statesboro Campus • Post Office Box 8023 • Statesboro • GA 30460
the City of Savannah
and the State of Georgia
Savannah: The Most Irish City in the Southeastern US
Productively blending native-Irish and Scots-Irish narratives since its founding in 1733, Savannah is the most Irish city in the Southeastern United States. One manifestation of that patrimony is the city’s annual hosting of the second-largest — and the best —St. Patrick’s Day Parade in North America.
The original parade occurred in 1824, when the Hibernian Society of Savannah, then dominated by Irish Presbyterian merchants, celebrated the twelfth anniversary of its inception by marching from the City Hotel on Bay Street to the Roman Catholic church of St. John the Baptist on (the now defunct) Liberty Square to hear an address, “The Epochs of Irish History,” delivered by a native of County Cork, Ireland: Rev. John England, the founding bishop of the Roman Catholic diocese of Charleston. Known as the “steam bishop” because of his energy, England used a portion of the speech to underscore the global nature of the Irish diaspora: “This day [St. Patrick’s Day, 1824] you may find [Ireland’s] children congregated in their [Irish-heritage] societies, upon the banks of the Savannah, and of the Ganges. This day they search for the shamrock under polar snows, and amidst the sands of the equator.”
Inclusive Excellence across and beyond Georgia
CIRT researches and teaches the Irish past of Savannah in particular and Georgia in general. Very intentionally, it also links that rich, complex history to present-day bridge-building, both at the community level and internationally. A recent example is instructive.
During early 2019, to honor GS’s strategic emphasis on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, the unit collaborated with the Savannah St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee, the Irish and British Consulates in Atlanta, the Northern Ireland Bureau in Washington, DC, and the Ulster-Scots Agency in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The partners successfully realized their shared goal of welcoming into Savannah’s 2019 St. Patrick’s Day Parade — an event witnessed live by almost one million people — a loyalist marching band from Omagh, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. This ground-breaking acknowledgement of Ireland’s cultural diversity in a major US St. Patrick’s Day celebration was complemented by a Civic Reception, hosted by Eddie DeLoach, Mayor of Savannah, and attended by David Stanton, TD, the Government of Ireland’s Minister with responsibility for Equality, Immigration, and Integration.
In addition to organizational and logistical duties, one of CIRT’s roles was to provide contextual material. That content — extensively researched by students — included (but was not limited to) archival data about Queensborough, an Ulster-Scots Presbyterian frontier settlement on theretofore Creek (Muskogee) lands in Pre-Revolutionary Georgia. Queensborough grew to cover around 75,000 acres (30,351 hectares) near the present-day city of Louisville. Encouraged by the project’s founders, John Rae (from County Antrim) and George Galphin (from County Armagh), the first Queensborough settlers left Belfast for Savannah in 1768. Rae had asserted, “[N]othing will give me more Satisfaction than to be the Means of bringing my Friends [in Ulster] to this Country of Freedom!”
Global Hub-Ireland: Wexford Town
Announcement Event: March 18, 2019
ABOVE • Speaking at the Announcement Event for Global Hub-Ireland, held on GS’s Armstrong Campus in Savannah on March 18, 2019, were (left to right): Shelley Nickel, Interim President, Georgia Southern University; Don Waters, Chair, Board of Regents, University System of Georgia; Shane Stephens, Consul General of Ireland for the Southeastern United States; John Coleman, Vice Chair, Board of Directors, Savannah Economic Development Authority.
GS Students Gain the International Advantage
of Collaborative, Experiential Learning in Ireland
CIRT has been the leading force behind GS’s decision to inaugurate a Global Hub — effectively, the university’s first overseas campus — in Wexford Town, Ireland. A vibrant, safe coastal settlement founded by the Vikings around 800 CE, Wexford Town counts among its cultural assets the Irish National Opera House, an iconic twenty-first-century edifice. The town’s industrial portfolio features a substantial research and production center operated by the Georgia-based Coca-Cola corporation. At the 2011 launch of a $220 million extension to the plant, the corporation’s Chair and CEO, Muhtar Kent, visiting from Atlanta, reflected, “Our continued investments in Wexford … will ensure we sustain and enhance our growth globally in the coming years. … The Coca-Cola brand has been in Ireland for more than half a century, and our long history here gives us continued confidence in the strength of the Irish workforce, the commitment of the Irish Government, and the know-how of Irish people to support our business.”
Known in Gaeilge (the Irish language) as Loch Garman, Wexford Town is the administrative center of and largest settlement in County Wexford (nicknamed “The Model County”), the most southeasterly of Ireland’s 32 traditional counties. Based in a Georgian-era heritage building, constructed in 1812, Georgia Southern’s Global Hub-Ireland serves all Colleges and disciplines within the university, whose student body is approaching 28,000, from freshman undergraduates to postdoctoral researchers. Courses in logistics, construction management, sustainability, healthcare administration, education, and religious studies are just some of the many offerings available at the Wexford Town site, where impressive architectural details blend with advanced technological capabilities, including the means to live-stream lectures to GS’s campuses in Savannah and Statesboro .
Distinguished by state-of-the-art classrooms — the result of an $800,000 third-party investment — this European gateway facility came about once a major, grant-funded CIRT research project, the Wexford-Savannah Axis (Phase I: 2014-2017), revealed a large County Wexford diaspora in nineteenth-century Savannah. Of note is the fact that Coca-Cola provided scholarships in the amount of $24,000 to aid undergraduate-student participation in the Wexford-Savannah Axis project, whose principal grant provider was the Government of Ireland. Mindful of the 1860 US Federal Census’s finding that almost one in four of Savannah’s non-slave residents had been born in Ireland, the project established that between 1849 and 1856 — “prime time” for Irish immigration into the so-called Hostess City — 56% or so of newcomers originated in County Wexford. Officially opened in November 2019, Global Hub-Ireland has brought this unique transatlantic connection full circle, 170 years later!
Howard Keeley, PhD, Director of the Center for Irish Research and Teaching, comments: “Wexford County Council has been GS’s stalwart partner in making Global Hub-Ireland [pictured above] a reality. We’re indebted to the Council’s multi-talented team. Support from others in County Wexford and the Government of Ireland was also critical.”
Keeley continues, “The superior physical space and the high-value professional network that constitute Global Hub-Ireland are helping Georgia Southern to advance a Core Action articulated by the University System of Georgia as part of the second of its three Strategic Imperatives. That Action is: delivering on a ‘commitment to international education’ so that ‘students … graduate as active and aware participants in the global economy and society.’ As the only English-speaking nation in the European Union, the world’s largest single market, Ireland provides an ideal venue for our students to gain international competencies. Recognized for its literary and artistic achievements and its friendly way of life, the country ranks in the top ten globally for its overall education system. The resulting skilled, adaptable, and efficient workforce is a key reason why no nation outpaces Ireland for FDI [foreign direct investment] by quality and value.”
Given GS’s first-order focus on economic development in Savannah and its hinterland, CIRT is thrilled that the journey to Global Hub-Ireland has been undertaken in cooperation with World Trade Center Savannah (WTCS), the international arm of the Savannah Economic Development Authority (SEDA). To grow trade and investment between the Coastal Georgia region and the Southeast Ireland region, CIRT and WTCS-SEDA determined to partner with Wexford County Council, Wexford Enterprise Center, and Enterprise Ireland (a unit of the Government of Ireland) to build an incubation initiative called Wexford-Savannah TradeBridge, Formally launched on March 16, 2018, TradeBridge seeks to capitalize on a series of earlier, highly productive transatlantic missions that featured such Georgia enterprises as the Savannah Bee Company (honey-based food and beauty products) and such Irish businesses as Medentech (water- and surface-sterilization solutions).
Thus far, TradeBridge outcomes have included the establishment in Savannah of US headquarters by two Irish corporations: Raceix, which produces software and hardware for the marine-leisure industry; and Eishtec, which provides customer-engagement services to both commercial firms and governmental and non-profit entities. Significant financial help for TradeBridge has come from the Coastal Region Office of Select Georgia, the Community and Economic Development division of Georgia Power, the largest electric utility in Georgia. CIRT and Georgia Southern University are proud that Wexford-Savannah TradeBridge is contributing to Georgia’s status in 2019 (for the sixth year in a row) as the US’s #1 state for business.
CIRT on Campus and in Our Communities