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An Irish connection
Georgia Southern officially opens landmark learning center in Ireland
Flanked by the Irish flag, left, and the Georgia State flag, Georgia Southern President Kyle Marrero speaks at official opening of the university's learning center in Wexford, Ireland. - photo by PATRICK BROWNE/Courtesy Georgia Southern University

When a team of Georgia Southern University leaders traveled to Ireland recently to officially open its learning center in Wexford, the ceremonial event proved to be so significant it attracted the deputy prime minister of Ireland and led to a meeting with Ireland’s president – the first official meeting between a Georgia Southern president and a foreign head of state.
The attention underscored the fact that Georgia Southern University is the first public university in the United States to open an outreach learning facility in Ireland.
“Visiting with Irish President Michael D. Higgins, opening our new center and meeting with a number of important Irish partners made for a moving, once-in-a-lifetime visit,” said Georgia Southern President Kyle Marrero. “The excitement from Irish leaders in Wexford was overwhelming – we heard repeatedly that having our delegation visit in person sent an important message about our commitment to this learning center and our intent to expand the scope of our new partnership.”
The new Irish learning center is a logical outgrowth of a long-time partnership between Wexford and Savannah, and Georgia Southern’s Center for Irish Research and Teaching.
A large percentage of Savannah’s population claims Irish ancestry, specifically tracing their roots to Wexford. The Allen company of Wexford town and the Graves and Howlett companies of New Ross (ports in County Wexford) operated direct services to Savannah in the mid-19th century. That connection brought many emigrants across the Atlantic on vessels like the Dunbrody.

To this day, family names associated with Wexford abound in Savannah. Georgia Southern students and researchers have been studying those immigrants, their descendants and the larger historical connections between the two countries.
That history – and years of collaboration between Savannah and Wexford leaders and academicians – led to Georgia Southern – Wexford, a global hub for learning housed in a historic building constructed in 1812. The space now features state-of-the-art classrooms and student apartments.  
“This is going to work for everybody, and in my view, it may become a template for other universities in the US to build a footprint and create an international hub in Ireland based on partnership, on trust, on friendship, and on research and education,” said Simon Coveney, TD, deputy prime minister of Ireland and minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade.

A significant milestone

Howard Keeley, director of Georgia Southern’s Center for Irish Research and Teaching, noted that the opening was a significant milestone.
“This constitutes the university’s most important study-abroad initiative since its founding over 100 years ago,” Keeley said. “Our ambition is to develop this center in Wexford Town as Georgia Southern University's primary educational venue for Europe. While the principal user will be Georgia Southern’s 26,000 students, we anticipate and welcome use by our sibling institutions in the University System of Georgia, which serves some 330,000 students.
“In addition to classroom instruction and field experiences, the intention is to provide networking opportunities for Wexford Town-based Georgia Southern students and faculty,” Keeley said.
Among the offerings during the initial phase of Georgia Southern – Wexford will be humanities and international-studies courses, presented under the auspices of Georgia Southern University’s Honors Program. Occurring over four weeks in May and June 2020, the courses will center on the unique emigration story that links the county of Wexford and the city of Savannah.
“During the early summer of 2020, these courses will provide undergraduate students with opportunities to conduct primary-source research at the Wexford County Archive and elsewhere in the region; to present their findings to public audiences; and to gain knowledge about diaspora identity, a matter that’s more important today than ever,” Keeley said.
Marrero said he expects the Wexford learning center to be not just an instructional facility but also a vibrant community space, where folks from across and beyond County Wexford can enjoy activities such as performances by faculty members and students from the music and theatre programs, as well as lively public lectures, workshops, and symposia.

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