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Overview


The Wexford-Savannah Axis is uncovering a significant Irish-American story.  

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Overview


The Wexford-Savannah Axis is uncovering a significant Irish-American story.  

The Wexford-Savannah Axis

Some folks are surprised to learn that Savannah, the fourth busiest port in the United States, hosts the second biggest St. Patrick’s Day Parade in North America.  A hub within the Southeast—the leading US region for economic growth—Savannah is proud of its Irish heritage, which constitutes a key attraction for many of the city’s 14 million annual tourists.

Arriving between Ireland’s Great Famine and America’s Civil War, immigrants from Wexford were critical to the consolidation of Irish identity in Savannah.  Those newcomers faced some tough challenges, such as the yellow fever epidemic of 1854, but they also achieved multiple and diverse successes, a legacy now being spotlighted for the twenty-first century. The list of Wexford-Savannah notables goes on and on: in industry, the military, the church, education, literature, politics, and more.

Writing home to a Wexford newspaper in the 1850s, one new arrival characterized Savannah as “the finest city I was ever in.” The research into the historic “Axis” between Wexford and Savannah is thrilling, and it strengthens present-day cultural, business, and educational links between Ireland and beautiful, thriving Savannah.
— Paul Kehoe, TD (Legislator) for Wexford, Minister of State for the Department of Defence of the Government of Ireland
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Wexford List


The Wexford-Savannah Axis is uncovering a significant Irish-American story.  

Wexford List


The Wexford-Savannah Axis is uncovering a significant Irish-American story.  

Wexfordians in Savannah

After early struggles of recently arrived immigrants, those from Wexford set their roots and helped build modern-day Savannah. A select number gained national reputations for their efforts in a variety of endeavors.  

 

Richard Joseph Nunn -- A Protestant Immigrant from Wexford Town

A Protestant from Wexford Town, immigrant R.J. Nunn, became a physician  during two yellow fever crises in Savannah goes on to become and—in response to two yellow-fever crises in Savannah—a national leader in US public-health reform. 

"Letter from Richard Joseph Nunn to Graves and Sons," (30 September 1850) Graves Collection, BR 3/087.  National Archives of Ireland, Dublin.

"Letter from Richard Joseph Nunn to Graves and Sons," (30 September 1850) Graves Collection, BR 3/087.  National Archives of Ireland, Dublin.

 

P.J. O'Connor -- Savannah's Irish-American Leader on the National Stage

P.J. O’Connor, the Savannah-born son of Wexford immigrants, served as national president of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, America’s premier Irish Catholic fraternity.  

Headstone of P.J O'Connor, Catholic Cemetery, Savannah, Georgia.

Headstone of P.J O'Connor, Catholic Cemetery, Savannah, Georgia.

 

Flannery O'Connor -- Legend of 20th Century Southern Literature 

P.J. O’Connor’s kinswoman and fellow Savannahian, Flannery O’Connor, ranks among the giants of American literature. 

Flannery O'Connor Childhood Home, Savannah, Georgia.

Flannery O'Connor Childhood Home, Savannah, Georgia.

 

Fr. Peter Whelan -- Angel of Andersonville

For his Civil War service in a notorious Confederate prison camp, humanitarian Wexford priest Peter Whelan earned the moniker “The Angel of Andersonville.” The beloved pastor’s funeral was the largest Savannah had ever seen. 

Fr. Peter Whelan Grave, Catholic Cemetery, Savannah, Georgia.

Fr. Peter Whelan Grave, Catholic Cemetery, Savannah, Georgia.

 
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Catholic Cemetery


Savannah's final resting place for Wexford emigrants

Catholic Cemetery


Savannah's final resting place for Wexford emigrants

Savannah's Catholic Cemetery

Established in 1853, Savannah’s atmospheric Catholic Cemetery has been described as the “ultimate archive” of much of the city’s Irish history.  Almost with a sense of longing, gravestone after gravestone invokes the word Wexford—and even particular parishes and townlands within that county.  Amid the Cemetery’s majestic live oaks, family names especially associated with Wexford abound: Corish, Kehoe, Murphy, Redmond, Rossiter, and Stafford, to name but a few.

The descentants of these original Wexfordians are proud of their Irish and Wexford heritage.  Most of the extant community are practicing Catholics and have been blessed to share in the ministry of a priest who trained at St. Peter's College, Wexford: Monsignor William Oliver O'Neil, Vicar General Emeritus of the Diocese of Savannah.  Here are some of his reflections on his experience of the connections between Wexford and Savannah.