GSU student discovers Savannah’s Irish heritage in Ireland archive

STATESBORO, Ga – “We had no idea about how he came to Savannah and to see this letter where he’s requesting a shipping company with which we had become familiar for passage to Savannah that was an extraordinary moment,” Dr. Howard Keeley, a Georgia Southern University professor, said.

Keeley is describing the moment Sarah Ryniker, a GSU Master’s student, found out how Richard Joseph Nunn made his way to the Hostess City.

“To know more about Nunn through Sarah’s discovery is really significant because this is not just a story about a Wexford man who became a Savannah man,” Keeley said. “This is a story with really national implications as we’re trying to understand the history of public sanitation.”

Keeley said Nunn was in the initial graduating class of Savannah Medical College in March of 1854 and had a role as a doctor during both yellow fever epidemics in the city.

He’s also credited for Major Public Sanitation Reform.

“He actually became a senior member of the Georgia Historical Society,” Keeley said. “He was a Mason, but his major claim to fame was as a public health advocate.”

The county of Wexford, Ireland is the main focus of the Wexford-Savannah Axis project through Georgia Southern’ s honors program.

It began four years ago to find out why Irish heritage is so significant in Savannah.

“This is a way out,” Keeley said. “Immigration to Savannah.”

Keeley is talking about an article on how immigrants can escape from Ireland. It’s one of the documents found by students in Ireland as a part of their five-week program.

“And this is an alien declaration form,” Keeley said.

A document from the 1800’s found in Savannah’s City Hall archive. It’s how people, like Nunn, were accepted into the states.

This information and knowing the vessel Nunn used combined with the letters helped Ryniker make this discovery. All by using a form she created.

“To make databases they can cross reference and then gradually the story starts to emerge,” Keeley said.

Keeley said the information she found will leave an impact on the project and the Irish heritage of Savannah.

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