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Alumni of the Ireland Program Prepare for a Reunion

This year marks the 40th anniversary of an important piece of Aquinas life: the study-abroad program in Tully Cross, Ireland. To celebrate, the Alumni Relations office is helping to organize a reunion for all students and faculty who have taken part. They will meet October 24-27 in Tully Cross.

The reunion will last for the entire weekend. Friday night, there will be a dinner at the Renvyle House Hotel. Saturday night will feature the main event: an all-village party at two area pubs, Coyne’s and Sammon’s. On Sunday, attendees can attend a special Mass.

This anniversary coincides with the Gathering, Ireland’s year-long effort to encourage people of Irish ancestry to visit the country. Dr. Jennifer Dawson, the Associate Dean of Student Affairs and English professor who taught for the program in 2008 and 2011, said the reunion is an official event for the Gathering. Newspapers, radio, and TV stations are covering it.

Every year, there is also a smaller Ireland reunion on Aquinas’s campus. Brigid Avery, Director of Alumni Relations at Aquinas, said attendees will be able to Skype with Aquinas students currently in Ireland and with the people of Tully Cross. This is scheduled for March 16 from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Donnelly Center. The evening will feature Irish beer, shepherd’s pie, and musical entertainment by The Lash. The forms to RSVP for this, or the larger reunion in Ireland, can be found on Alumni Relations’ website.

Aquinas’ Ireland program is the College’s most popular and longest-running study-abroad program. According Dawson, close to 900 students have taken part. “The Ireland program is not just part of the Aquinas history,” she said, “but the Aquinas mythology.”

Since Aquinas students and faculty have visited Tully Cross annually for the last 40 years, a warm relationship with the village has developed. Avery said, “It was really the townspeople who said, ‘What are we doing for the 40th anniversary?’”

Avery knows that the feeling is mutual among alumni of the Ireland program. “It’s definitely one of the strongest affinity groups we have,” she said. “You just mention Ireland and their eyes glaze over, and they go back to Tully Cross.”

The program, where about 20 students spend the spring semester in Tully Cross studying Irish literature, history and culture, is distinctive among Aquinas’s study-abroad offerings. While most of the programs cater to foreign language majors, the Ireland program has hosted students majoring in everything from history to business. “There’s no language requirement for Ireland,” said Avery. “It’s more of a cultural immersion.”

In addition, Dawson said the village of Tully Cross provides an atmosphere different from study-abroad programs centered in major cities like Rome. “There aren’t a lot of opportunities in this day and age to immerse yourself in a rural area,” she said.

The format of the Ireland program also lends itself to the students building relationships. They live together in cottages, rather than splitting up among host families. “We go and we create our own kind of community with the students and the local people,” Dawson said. She hopes the reunion will not only bring together students and faculty from the Ireland program, but people who lived in Tully Cross at one point and have gotten to know the Aquinas community.

Dawson said that many people who participate in the Ireland program eventually return. She recalled how she was greeted in a pub by a group of Aquinas students she had never met, but who took part in the Ireland program several years before and returned annually ever since.