Irish links are strong and deep at Georgia Southern University. Our institution boasts the flagship Irish Studies program in the University System of Georgia: the Center for Irish Research and Teaching (CIRT). In addition, since 1935, one of our campuses, Armstrong, has been a key component of life in Savannah, the most Irish city in the Southeastern United States. The Federal Census of 1860 recorded one in every four of Savannah's "Free" population — around 14% of its overall population — as having been born in Ireland. Thus, mid-nineteenth-century Savannah was Irish in ways comparable to New York and Boston at that time.
A unique and remarkable fact is that during the 1840s and 1850s, the most intensive period for Irish immigration into Savannah, 56% of the newcomers originated in just one of Ireland's 32 traditional counties: Wexford (or Loch Garman in the Irish language), a maritime county in the extreme southeast of the island of Ireland. One could say that Savannah constitutes "Wexford, USA"! Abounding in Savannah (the "Hostess City") to this day are family names especially associated with Wexford (the "Model County"): Corish, Doyle, Kehoe, Rossiter, Sinnott, Stafford, and more. While Wexford immigrants faced challenges in Savannah, including the yellow fever epidemic of 1854, they were broadly welcomed into the antebellum city. On December 6, 1850, the Savannah Republican newspaper offered an editorial comment about "125 emigrants” who had arrived “from Wexford” on the previous day: "[R]arely do we see a more respectable body of new comers from any portion of Europe … who we learn design settling in Savannah. ... May they realize their brightest anticipations, of prosperity and happiness in their new home” (page 2, column 2).
The Center for Irish Research and Teaching (CIRT) is an entirely non-funded academic and outreach unit of Georgia Southern University. Major financial support of the Wexford-Savannah Axis project has come from two grants (in 2015-2016 and 2016-2017), awarded by the Emigrant Support Program of the Irish Government's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. We are grateful for additional funding from the Savannah Economic Development Authority; the Hibernian Society of Savannah (founded in 1812); and the Irish Heritage Society of Sun City-Hilton Head, South Carolina. Unless otherwise stated, all images on this website are the property of Menapia Research + Education. Use of any image must be with permission and acknowledgment. Please direct inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org. Links included on this webpage have been carefully selected; however, CIRT is not responsible for the content of external websites.
Conducted in both Irish and Savannahian archives by undergraduates and graduates from Georgia Southern University, primary-source inquiries have revealed that the Wexford-Savannah sea route functioned intensively for trading in goods and for transporting Irish emigrants during the fall-winter sailing seasons of 1845 through 1856. Our student researchers have determined that the Dunbrody — named after a twelfth-century County Wexford abbey — was the first vessel to head for Savannah, sailing past the Azores and Bermuda in the open Atlantic Ocean before docking alongside River Street, Savannah, on January 24, 1846.
The Dunbrody belonged to an extensive fleet, owned by William Graves & Son, a merchant-shipping company headquartered in the Block House, on the dockside in New Ross. With an exceptionally rich medieval history, picturesque New Ross is a deep-water port on the River Barrow in western County Wexford, about 20 miles inland from the sea. Two other merchant-marine firms in the county also adopted the non-stop Savannah route. One was Howlett & Co., headquartered, alongside Graves, in New Ross. The other was operated by the brothers R., M., & R. (Richard, Maurice, and Robert) Allen. The Allens' vessels sailed out of Wexford Town, the county seat, which is a shallow-water port on the Irish Sea coast in eastern County Wexford.
Images (click for full-size versions) • Right/Top: A portion of the entrance into the Dunbrody Emigrant Experience Center on the quays (pronounced "keys") or riverside in New Ross, County Wexford. ••• Center: The Dunbrody was classified as a barque (or bark), a category of vessel with at least three masts; pictured here are the square-rigged foremast and mainmast. ••• Right/Bottom: Ireland's national flag flies from the bowsprit of the full-sized reproduction of the Dunbrody in New Ross; the green, white, and orange tricolor was introduced as a revolutionary banner in 1848 in Waterford, just south of New Ross.
Savannah was the destination of the Dunbrody's first commercial sailing after the Graves company took delivery of it, in 1845, from its maker: the Québec-based but Irish-born shipwright, Thomas Hamilton Oliver. Georgia Southern University research demonstrates that Andrew Low, the leading factor in the port of Savannah, received the Dunbrody on that occasion, interfacing with its captain, John Baldwin, to load on board a cargo of Georgia timber for export to Ireland. For Graves & Co., plentiful Ogeechee River oak and pine constituted the initial draw to Savannah. Subsequently, the Dunbrody set out for Savannah on at least four additional occasions; and several of its sibling Graves vessels — not least, the Lady Bagot, the Glenlyon, and the India — also plied the route.
While County Wexford vessels first sailed to Savannah with just stone ballast (some of which likely paves parts of River Street, Savannah), from 1849 the Graves, Howlett, and Allen companies all made emigrants the chief focus of the Wexford-Savannah route. Ireland's Great Hunger (the potato famine of 1845-1849) precipitated a massive, long-term wave of emigration from Ireland; however, having a diverse agricultural economy, County Wexford was less affected by the crisis than perhaps any other county.
Research findings by Georgia Southern students point to safe and healthy voyages from New Ross and Wexford Town to Savannah, as well as a lack of destitution among the hundreds of steerage-class Wexford emigrants bound for the Georgia port-city. Furthermore, our student researchers have determined that citizens of Savannah generally welcomed the newcomers from Wexford. These discoveries are helping to reshape academic and popular conversations about Great Hunger-era emigration from Ireland, especially the notions of "coffin ships" and "No Irish Need Apply." Data from the Georgia Southern project are considered so significant by international scholars that they featured as an invited presentation at the inaugural Irish Global Diaspora Congress, held at University College, Dublin — a unit of the National University of Ireland — during August 2017.
Images (click for full-size versions) • Left/Top: Working with uncatalogued material at the National Archives of Ireland in Dublin, Georgia Southern University students uncovered a Savannah Custom House certificate from January 1856 that indicates "Timber, Masts, and Staves" as the Dunbrody's cargo for the return voyage to Ireland, with (unusually) Cork, not New Ross, as the initial port of call. (Image © National Archives of Ireland; used with permission.) ••• Center: Between 1996 and 2001, apprentice shipwrights, carpenters, and blacksmiths worked under master craftspeople to construct, in a dry dock in New Ross, a full-scale reproduction of the original Dunbrody. ••• Right/bottom: In the quarters for steerage passengers, historical reenactors bring the "Green Atlantic" voyage to life.
A full-scale replica of the Dunbrody — technically, a barque — is the centerpiece of a major tourist attraction on the quay (pronounced "key") or wharf in New Ross. The facility — the Dunbrody Emigrant Experience Center — was developed by the John F. Kennedy Trust of New Ross, an organization dedicated to preserving and promoting the area's rich history, including President Kennedy's ancestral home. At the Dunbrody Center, visitors explore audio-visual interpretative displays before proceeding onto the vessel itself, where, below decks, historical reenactors create a vivid picture of the month-and-better voyage to North America. Currently, the Georgia Southern Center for Irish Research and Teaching is working with the Dunbrody team to make Savannah a core aspect of the permanent installation in New Ross.
In addition to undertaking the Dunbrody tour, the Georgia Southern Alumni group will enjoy a delicious lunch at the interpretative center's highly rated restaurant, overlooking the River Barrow. The group's host for the meal will be Seán Connick, Director of the Dunbrody Emigrant Experience Center. Time and again, Seán has generously facilitated Georgia Southern students in two major ways: granting them access to research resources; and providing them with opportunities to publicly present their research findings. At a memorable event in June 2016, undergraduate and graduate Eagles joined the senior class of the Savannah Children's Choir to stage at the Dunbrody Center a program celebrating the renewal of the Wexford-Savannah Axis after a century and a half. The occasion was made possible by Seán, his colleagues at John F. Kennedy Trust, and Wexford County Council.
By the way: the "New" in New Ross refers to its being created from scratch as a port-town. Begun in 1189, the initiative was part of a regional-development scheme by the English knight, William Marshall, and his Irish wife, Isabel de Clare. Through his marriage, Marshall (Earl of Pembroke) had become ruler of much of Leinster, a large kingdom in the east of Ireland that included present-day County Wexford. New Ross emerged as the busiest port in medieval Ireland, and elements of the settlement's early history, such as sections of a mid-thirteenth-century defensive town-wall, are still present.
Images (click for full-size versions) • Left/Top: The Dunbrody is permanently docked beside the Emigrant Experience Center that bears the vessel's name; among other features, the Center contains an Irish-American Hall of Fame. ••• Center: In addition to notable medieval structures, new Ross boasts such fine nineteenth-century buildings as the gothic-revival Catholic church of Saints Mary and Michael; emigrants from County Wexford to Savannah carried with them awareness of the construction of hundreds of new churches across Ireland during the Victorian Era. ••• Right/bottom: An eternal flame burns inside a globe on the quayside in New Ross; it was transported from President John F. Kennedy's gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia, in recognition of the fact that the thirty-fifth U.S. President's great-grandfather emigrated from New Ross, the town closest to his family's farm, arriving in Boston on April 22, 1849.
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During our time in Wexford Town — a Viking settlement and the county seat — we will cross the bridge over the River Slaney for a showcase visit to the Wexford County Archive. Year after year, this treasure trove of historical documents and artifacts has kindly opened its doors to Georgia Southern University student-researchers engaged in the Wexford-Savannah Axis research project. The 2019 alumni-and-friends group will be welcomed by the Director of the Archive, Gráinne Doran, who will facilitate an opportunity to view a variety of materials related to the mid-nineteenth-century Atlantic passage to Savannah from ports in County Wexford. Of particular interest are bound originals of the Wexford Independent and other broadsheet newspapers from the 1840s and 1850s that contain shipping-company advertisements for "Emigration to Savannah." It is humbling to contemplate that the forbears of present-day residents of Savannah could well have handled the very newspapers now carefully housed in the Wexford County Archive.
Images (click for full-size versions) • Left/Top: This advertisement from a September 1850 issue of the Wexford Independent newspaper promotes emigration to Savannah: “the best Port in the States of America” for winter landings. Due to sail, from Wexford Town, is the Allen company’s barque, Brothers, one of whose later voyages would bring to Savannah the Kehoe family. Arriving in the city with his parents, William Kehoe went on to develop the massive Kehoe’s Iron Works in the Trustees’ Garden-Old Fort district. Upon that Wexfordian's death in 1929, the flag on the gold-domed Savannah City Hall was lowered to half-staff. (Image © Wexford County Archive; used with permission.) ••• Center: Georgia Southern undergraduate students conduct Wexford-Savannah Axis archival work in Ireland. Few universities provide undergraduates with such primary-source research opportunities: a point of pride for our institution. ••• Right/Bottom: In an October 1850 issue of the Wexford Independent, advertisements for the Wexford-to-Savannah emigration route appear one after the other. The upper notice is for the Allen brothers’ Menapia (an ancient term for Wexford), scheduled out of Wexford Town. As you can see, under Captain John Hayes, the Menapia had Québec as its summer destination and ice-free Savannah as its winter one. The lower notice is for Howlett & Co.'s John Bell, scheduled out of New Ross. Howlett also transported emigrants to New Orleans, but Savannah was the Southern US port most served by County Wexford vessels. (Image © Wexford County Archive; used with permission.)
Our Georgia Southern student-researchers are engaging with the Wexford-Savannah Axis at the granular level. Our ambition is to make the research project one of the most detailed and holistic such studies by any university in North America or Europe.
Demonstrating lively links between County Wexford and the State of Georgia, an August 1851 issue of the Wexford Independent newspaper reprinted a letter (pictured below) from Augusta, Georgia, penned by Rev. John Barry, a Roman Catholic priest. A native of the village of Oylegate (or Oilgate), County Wexford, Barry was making — via Rev. James Roche, the leading priest in Wexford Town — a financial contribution towards a memorial to Rev. Dr. John Sinnott, who had been President of St. Peter’s Seminary, Wexford Town, and then Vicar General of Ferns, the diocese essentially coterminous with County Wexford. At the time of writing, Barry, a sometime student at St. Peter's, was Vicar General of the Diocese of Charleston, whose jurisdiction had included Georgia. He was also in the twenty-first year of his tenure as parish priest of Holy Trinity, Augusta.
The year 1850 saw the establishment of the Diocese of Savannah. When its founding bishop died in the yellow fever epidemic of 1854, Barry was appointed diocesan governor (or caretaker leader), serving until 1857, when he became the second Bishop of Savannah. Barry's story is but one of many illustrations of the deep bonds that remained across the Atlantic after individuals from Wexford settled in the Southeastern United States — bonds that Georgia Southern University's Center for Irish Research and Teaching has been in the forefront of renewing in the twenty-first century.
Mid-nineteenth-century advertisements for the emigrant route between Wexford and Savannah reveal that it was possible to procure tickets throughout County Wexford. In the town of Gorey, in the north of the county, Thomas Harvey acted as agent for R., M., & R. Allen, and it is likely the Kehoe family, which became so prominent in Savannah, would have interfaced with him prior to sailing aboard the Brothers in 1851-1852. The Kehoes rented a farm in a place called Mounthoward, roughly 10 miles south of Gorey. In the town of Enniscorthy, in central County Wexford, both the Allen and Howlett companies employed as agent James Devereux. In its edition of Saturday, October 25, 1851, the Wexford Independent characterized that individual as an "eminent and painstaking emigration agent" (page 2, column 3).
Images (click for full-size versions) • Left/Top: The presentation in an August 1851 issue of the Wexford Independent of a letter, mailed from Augusta, Georgia, in support of a "testimonial" or physical memorial to an important Wexford priest. The sender, Rev. John Barry, a native of County Wexford, would become the Second Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Savannah. (Image © Wexford County Archive; used with permission.) ••• Center: Responding to the success of the Wexford-to-Savannah route, the Allen brothers of Wexford Town commissioned a new vessel, the Wexford, which (as this Wexford Independent advertisement shows) commenced service in the fall of 1851. John English captained the Wexford, having transferred command of the Brothers to its former first mate, John Murphy. Also in this image are the opening lines of a notice for a Savannah-bound sailing, on or around September 25, 1851, of the Graves & Son packet-ship, Glenlyon. In fact, the Glenlyon departed from New Ross on October 7, carrying over 200 “steerage passengers” and — for sale in Savannah — such items as “best quality Irish potatoes, in hampers”; “prime Irish double stout Porter”; and “handsome marble Mantle Pieces.” (Image © Wexford County Archive; used with permission.) ••• Right/Bottom: An advertisement in a September 1853 issue of the twice-weekly Wexford Independent, encouraging yet more Wexfordians to emigrate to Savannah, this time aboard the Dunbrody, belonging to William Graves & Son of New Ross. Although the text emphasizes the availability of farmland outside Savannah and the ease of movement from Savannah to other regions of the US, most Wexfordians who emigrated to the Hostess City made it their permanent home. (Image © Wexford County Archive; used with permission.)
While no Wexford-to-Savannah passenger lists have been located, we know the names of some among the emigrants — for example, a young man, McLaughlin, who secured passage on the sailing of the Allen brothers' barque, Menapia, that departed from Wexford Town on December 16, 1850. Under the one-word headline, "EMIGRATION," the Saturday, March 29, 1851, issue of the Wexford Independent stated, “We feel great pleasure in giving … extracts of a letter, just received by Mr. McLaughlin of this town [Wexford Town], from his son, who left here ... bound for Savannah, United States” (page 2, column 3).
In the piece of correspondence, McLaughlin Junior praises Captain Hayes and Chief Mate Campbell of the Menapia, enthusing that "more humane and kinder-hearted men ... never sailed in charge of human souls." He then turns to the passengers' reception in Savannah. McLaughlin Junior explains,
McLaughlin Junior's 1851 letter to his father indicates that "[w]e had the sea-gulls with us from the time we left the Saltee Islands, until we made near the Gulf of Mexico." Although his US geography may be a bit off, McLaughlin Junior would have known the Saltees. For Savannah-bound emigrants departing from the harbor at Wexford Town on the Allen brothers' vessels, the Saltees doubtless registered as one of the last and most striking images of their native county. There are two principal islands: Great Saltee (An Sailte Mór) and Little Saltee (An Sailte Beag). Constituting a migratory sea-bird colony of international importance, they lie south of the thriving fishing port of Kilmore Quay, County Wexford.
An undersea ridge runs between Little Saltee and the mainland. According to George Griffiths's Chronicles of the County Wexford ... to the Year 1877 (published in Enniscorthy in 1877), this "natural causeway" is known as St. Patrick's Bridge because "popular legend" insists that it "was commenced by the Saint with a view of continuing it to France" (page 247). Boat trips to or around the Saltees are a popular option for visitors to Kilmore Quay, for they reveal some of the maritime splendor of County Wexford.
Slideshow • A variety of scenes from the Saltee Islands and the nearest mainland settlement: Kilmore Quay. Surrounded by pristine, pellucid waters, the Saltees abound with Atlantic grey seals and such marine birds as guillemots, fulmars, gannets, great black-backed gulls, kittiwakes, Manx shearwaters, puffins, and razorbills. Famous for its distinctive style of thatched roofs, Kilmore Quay provides both a commerical fishing harbor and a pleasure-boat harbor.
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For Savannah-bound emigrants departing from New Ross, the Hook lighthouse constituted the defining landmark as their vessel entered the open ocean from the combined estuary of the Barrow and its two "sister" rivers: the Nore and the Suir (pronounced "sure"). That estuary is known as Waterford Harbor, for it leads to the port of Waterford City, as well as that of New Ross. One can readily imagine the Hook lighthouse as a last impression of Ireland and the Tybee lighthouse as a first impression of the Savannah region.
The Georgia Southern University alumni-and-friends tour to Ireland will visit Hook lighthouse, noting en route such features of the Hook Peninsula as Lofus Hall, said to be Ireland's most haunted house! While the precursor to the present-day Tybee lighthouse was erected (on General James Oglethorpe's orders) in 1736, the extant Hook lighthouse dates to between 1210 and 1230. Its construction was part of a scheme by William Marshall, the Earl of Pembroke, to develop shipping into the new port-town he was creating: New Ross. Making a memorable impression, the structure on our itinerary is the oldest intact operational lighthouse in the word.
Images (click for full-size versions) • Left/Top: For over 800 years, the Hook lighthouse has been guiding vessels in and out of the three rivers' estuary connected to such ports as New Ross and Waterford City. Visitors enjoy an exhibit about the rich history of the four-story lighthouse — and the rich sea-life in the surrounding waters (from harbor porpoises to fin whales). In addition, they can mount the tower's interior staircase to a viewing platform. ••• Center: The vistas from atop Hook lighthouse stretch across some of Europe's best barley-growing farmland to the mountains of northern County Wexford. ••• Right/bottom: While the Hook lighthouse rewards a visit at any time of day, it is perhaps most spectacular at sunset. Across the estuary from Hook Head is the village of Crooke, County Waterford, and this juxtaposition is one possible explanation of the phrase, "by hook or by crook."
Between New Ross and the Hook lighthouse, the countryside yields several exceptional medieval buildings. Many Wexfordians who emigrated to Savannah would have carried with them memories of these iconic structures, which are associated with the invasion and settlement of Ireland by Norman knights. The first Norman incursion occurred in May 1169 — at Bannow Bay, County Wexford — under the leadership of Robert fitz Stephen and Maurice de Prendergast. In August 1170, their military footprint expanded due to the arrival of an army whose commander, Richard fitz Gilbert de Clare, nicknamed Strongbow, would become the leading Norman in Ireland.
Known as Cambro-Normans because their primary residences were in Wales (or Cambria), the newcomers added to the ethnic mix in County Wexford, which already contained native Irish and Vikings. Unsurprisingly, the mid-nineteenth-century emigrant sailings from New Ross and Wexford Town introduced into Savannah multiple Wexford family names with Norman associations, such as Hussey, Rossiter, Redmond, and Stafford.
Strongbow's successor was his son-in-law, William Marshall, whose impact upon County Wexford includes the port-town of New Ross and the Hook lighthouse. In the year 1200, that knight, famous as a tournament champion, established the Abbey of Tintern Minor, which he populated with Cistercian monks (or white monks) from the original Tintern Abbey, in Wales. Around a dozen miles northeast of the tip of Hook Head, Tintern Minor is also known as Tintern de Voto ("Tintern of the Vow") because, during a tempest at sea, Marshall vowed to construct it wherever his vessel made a safe landing. The Irish Times calls its location — which also encompasses the Colclough walled garden — "one of the most majestic settings" in Ireland.
Images (click for full-size versions) • Left/Top: This suite of well-preserved ruins is what remains of Clonmines, County Wexford, one of the earliest Norman towns in Ireland. The Norman invasion derived from an invitation, issued by the Gaelic chieftain, Dermot MacMurrough, who was seeking allies in a struggle against a coalition of other Gaelic lords. MacMurrough’s goal was to recover his kingdom, known as Laigin in Irish and Leinster in English. Ultimately, a Gaelic-Norman alliance emerged through the marriage of Aoife, MacMurrough’s daughter, to Strongbow (Richard de Clare), the foremost Norman commander. ••• Center and Right/Bottom: Aoife and Strongbow’s son-in-law, William Marshall, founded the Abbey of Tintern Minor, endowing it with around 9,000 acres of land. Between 1536 and 1541, King Henry VIII dissolved the British and Irish monasteries; and in 1562, Tintern Minor came into the possession of the Colclough family. Just over 400 years later, an Irish state agency, the Office of Public Works, assumed responsibility for the abbey and around 100 acres of surrounding woodlands.
Published in 1844, the year before the start of the Great Hunger, Travels in Ireland is an important work by the German travel-writer and cartographer, Johann Kohl (1808-1878), who also spent four years in the United States, where he received map-making commissions from Congress and the US Coast Survey. Of the region that includes Hook Head, Tintern Minor, and New Ross, Kohl avers, "[T]he landscape ... is as picturesque, pleasing, and diversified in its kind as any other in the world."
Concerning his voyage in a steamer "up the [River] Barrow" on the "flowing tide" towards New Ross, Kohl recalls passengers "dancing" to "bagpipes" in the vessel's forecastle, between "butter-firkins, flour-bags, egg-boxes, hen-coops, baskets of turkeys, tied-up cows, and a confused heap of grunting pigs." While the Georgia Southern Alumni Tour will not subject its guests to such conditions, we trust that you will enjoy uilleann pipes, Ireland's traditional "elbow bagpipes," so much that you will want to dance throughout the gorgeous county of Wexford.
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The United States celbrates 1776 as the year of the Declaration of Independence. In Ireland, a particularly resonant date is 1798 . During most of that year, the entire island of Ireland experienced the United Irish Rebellion, a complex effort to end British rule and establish a sovereign Irish republic. Recalled in stories, songs, and statues, 1798 remains the bloodiest in Irish history, and no Irish county saw more violence than Wexford, which lost perhaps as much of a fifth of its population. Although the British ultimately quashed it, the Rebellion — which was spearheaded by the non-sectarian Society of the United Irishmen — inspired subsequent uprisings: by Robert Emmet in 1803; by Young Ireland in 1848; by the Fenians in 1867; and by a coalition of physical-force-nationalist organizations during Easter Week of 1916.
The foregoing phrase is from an Irish-language poem, composed by Mícheál Óg Ó Longáin (1766-1837), a member of the Society of United Irishmen. It expresses the central aim of the 1798 Rebellion: "... all the land free forever."
In what became Ireland's most popular novel of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, Charles Kickham's Knocknagow (first published in 1873), one female character, “old Mrs. Donovan," explains 1798 as “the year uv [of] the hill, an’ the hangin’ an’ the floggin’ an’ all." She witnessed the traumatic period as a girl, and the "hill" to which she refers is Vinegar Hill, just outside Enniscorthy, a town on the Slaney River in central County Wexford. Fought on midsummer's day — June 21, 1798 — the Battle of Vinegar Hill turned the greater conflict in favor of the British. Some historians estimate that 38,000 individuals participated — and as many as 1,200 Irish men, women, and children died — in the single-day Battle of Vinegar Hill.
Images (click for full-size versions) • Left/Top: The Market Square in the center of Enniscorthy contains Oliver Sheppard's 1908 statue of Father John Murphy, a Roman Catholic priest and a leader of the 1798 Rebellion in his native county, Wexford. Murphy is pointing out Vinegar Hill to a young croppy (rebel), whose left hand grips a pike that acts as a flagstaff. ••• Center: A view of Enniscorthy from atop Vinegar Hill. ••• Right/Bottom: Just below the summit of Vinegar Hill stands the base of a ruined windmill. Operational in 1798, the structure provided the rebels with a battlefield headquarters.
In Charles Kickham's Knocknagow, a man in his twenties addresses a veteran of the 1798 Rebellion, asserting, “I’d like to see that old pike of yours taken from the thatch [the roofing of a house] for a manly fight like that you fought in ‘98." To this day, the blacksmith-forged rebel pike symbolizes the 1798 Rebellion.
Rebel fighters in the Rebellion gained two principal monikers: pikemen and croppies. The latter term reflects a habit of cropping the hair to counter the aristocratic preference for powered wings. Attributed to Carroll Malone, a nationalist ballad, "The Croppy Boy," became popular in the early nineteenth century. In the version printed in Charles Gavin Duffy's The Ballad Poetry of Ireland (1845), the final two lines present a request: "Good people who live in peace and joy, / Breathe a prayer an a tear for the Croppy Boy."
Images (click for full-size versions) • On Vinegar Hill, just outside Ennsicorthy, Co. Wexford, reenactors demostrate aspects of the seminal battle fought there on mindsummer's day 1798. We hope that the Alumni Tour will include an opportunity to witness this group.
In a printed communique, issued on St. Patrick's Day, 1798 — the year of the Rebellion — the central committee of the Society of the United Irishmen urged the organization's members to "[b]e firm" and to remain "patient yet awhile." Across the centuries, the Irish have had to exercise both firmness and patience in response to challenges posed by British colonialism. Few Irish towns outdo Enniscorthy's example of resistance and resilience.
Despite the legacy of Penal Laws that restricted the religious and civil rights of Roman Catholics, Enniscorthy's citizens led in the erection, near the town's center, of a cathedral for Ferns, the diocese that serves most of County Wexford. Begun in 1842 and dedicated to St. Aidan (also known as Maedoc and Mogue), the Gothic Revival structure is a masterwork by Augustus Welby Pugin, who also designed the interiors of the Houses of Parliament in London.
During Ireland's Easter Rising of 1916, Enniscorthy (a stop on an important rail line into Dublin) was held by the Irish Volunteers and Cumann na mBan: respectively, male and female paramilitary groups dedicated to securing Irish independence. Based in the Athenæum, a theater beside Enniscorthy Castle, these rebels were the last anywhere in Ireland to surrender. Two of the leading fighters — Robert and Una Brennan, a married couple — would later relocate to Washington, DC, for between 1938 and 1947 Robert served as Ireland's first ambassador to the United States.
Images (click for full-size versions) • Left/Top: Enniscorthy Castle sits on a rise overlooking the River Slaney (whose Irish-language name means "river of health"). The river flows on to enter the sea at Wexford Town. ••• Center: The famed architect Pugin's largest commission in Ireland, St. Aiden's Cathedral is a stunning presence in Enniscorthy. ••• Right/Bottom: Constructed in 1892, Enniscorthy's Athenæum served as headquarters for the rebels who successfully took the town during the Easter Rising of 1916. More recently, it featured in the movie, Brooklyn (2015), based on a novel by Colm Tóibín, a native of Enniscorthy. Set in the 1950s, Brooklyn explores how the pull of home exerts itself on a young Enniscorthy woman who has emigrated to New York. An excellent tour of movie-related sites is a popular attraction in Enniscorthy.
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