Irish Americans
Honored in New Ross

The New Savannagh exhibition is officially opened at the Dunbrody Center by Sean Connick, the Center's CEO, and Dr. Frank Rossiter. (Photos: Mary Browne)

By Irish America Staff
October / November 2019

The Hall of Fame, Kennedy Summer School, and the opening of a Savannah exhibit all happened in New Ross in early September. 

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Two Americans with connections to New Ross were inducted into the Irish America Hall of Fame in County Wexford in September.

Dr. Frank Rossiter, a pioneering Savannah doctor, and the late John McShain, a philanthropist who donated vast amounts of money to schools, colleges, and hospitals, and provided financial support to students including Alice O’Neill McLoughlin, one of the closest Irish relatives to James O’Neill (Eugene O’Neill’s father), who had proposed McShain’s induction.  

McShain, who was known as “The Man Who Built Washington,” was born in Philadelphia to Irish parents from County Derry. From the 1930s to the 1960s, McShain set his sights on building the nation’s capital, and erected about a hundred buildings in Washington, D.C., including the Pentagon, the Jefferson Memorial, the State Department, Washington National Airport, and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. He also worked from 1949-52 on reconstructing the White House. 

Bruce Morrison, the former congressman from Connecticut best known for pioneering the Immigration Reform Act of 1990, which granted 48,000 work visas to Irish people. He was inducted into the Irish America Hall of Fame in 2013.

McShain stayed close to his Irish roots, and in 1960 he bought 8,500 acres in Kerry, including Inisfallen Monastic Island and Ross Castle, which he donated to the Irish nation in 1973, retaining Killarney House and 50 acres, where he died on September 9, 1989.

A large crowd gathered at the Dunbrody Centre in New Ross, where the Irish America Hall of Fame is housed, for the induction of both McShain and Dr. Rossiter.

Dr. Rossiter regaled guests with stories of his family history, adding that his great-grandfather married a woman who immigrated to Quebec from New Ross. He acknowledged the presence of Bishop Denis Brennan, and the visiting group from Savannah, where Dr. Rossiter is celebrated for his work in the medical field and his commitment to his Irish heritage. For 10 years he served as a medical doctor in the U.S. army, following which he went on to establish himself in private practice in his home city, building a highly respected office offering pediatric, allergy, and clinical immunology services to an economically and racially broad cross-section of the Savannah community.

The late John McShain, the great American businessman and philanthropist.

In addition to his private practice, he served on the staff of each of the city’s full-service teaching hospitals: St. Joseph’s (founded by Irish nuns in 1875), Candler, and Memorial Health. At the Memorial unit called Backus Children’s Hospital (the only such hospital in southeast Georgia), Dr. Rossiter performed a number of roles over the decades, most notably serving as chair of the department of pediatrics. For Memorial as a whole, he was appointed chair of the medical advisory committee and a member of the ethics committee.

Dr. Rossiter, who traveled to New Ross with his family, served as the grand marshal of Savannah St. Patrick’s Day parade in 2008. In his acceptance remarks he said, “I could not be more proud of my Irish heritage as a member and past president of the Hibernian society.” He  added that his dad was really the one who should be inducted into the Hall of Fame. His father, Francis P. Rossiter, Sr., had captained a U.S. military landing craft during the D-Day invasion, taking time out from his career as a journalist on the Savannah Morning News to serve his country. His “City Beat” column became a Savannah institution, so much so that readers began their day with the paper’s back page, where “City Beat” appeared. Over the last 13 years of his life, Frank Sr. served multiple consecutive terms as deputy mayor of Savannah, invariably securing the highest vote tallies in citywide races.

Betsy Joyce Bracken, John McShain’s niece, receiving the Hall of Fame award for her uncle, who was inducted into the Irish America Hall of Fame posthumously. Betsy was presented the award by fellow inductee Dr. Frank Rossiter.

Savannah and New Ross have a long and deep connection, and to honor that bond, the Dunbrody Visitor Experience has opened a new Savannah exhibit which depicts what immigrants might expect had they arrived in Savannah in the 1840s and 1850s – some 20,000 Irish immigrated from New Ross to Savannah during that period, mainly from Wexford and Tipperary.  The exhibit is located at the end of the ship tour, just before visitors arrive at the Irish America Hall of Fame.

THE KENNEDY SUMMER SCHOOL

Other visitors to the Irish America Hall of Fame in September included Ellen McCourt, who was there as a tourist; former congressman Bruce Morrison; Irish America’s publisher Niall O’Dowd; and Maureen Dowd, the New York Times columnist, who were in New Ross to take part in the seventh annual Kennedy Summer School, which ran from September 5 through the 7.

Ellen McCourt.

Brexit, the upcoming Irish budget, and the possibility of an imminent general election were all discussed in detail by the expert guest speakers. Northern Ireland was very much in the spotlight, with DUP chief whip at Westminster Jeffrey Donaldson and Senator Michael McDowell discussing the twists and turns of Brexit. Niall O’Dowd and Michael Lonergan, the deputy chief of mission at the Embassy of Ireland in Washington, D.C.,  discussed the future of the Trump administration, and his time in office to date, considering his chances of re-election and the particularly crowded race for Democratic presidential nominees.

There was also a series of public interviews, including an audience with Maureen Dowd, who won the 1999 PulitzerPrize for journalism, and authored three New York Times bestsellers. Former deputy first minister of Northern Ireland Seamus Mallon and former congressman and classmate of Bill and Hillary Clinton Bruce Morrison also took part. For his part in procuring permanent residency for thousands of Irish people in the 1980s and ’90s, Morrison was inducted into the Irish America Hall of Fame in 2016.

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