Seán O’Dwyer ’23, Irish Naval Reservist and University of Limerick (Ireland) student studying abroad at UMassD, discusses his time here in the United States.
Seán O’Dwyer ’23 is a Law and Accounting student at the University of Limerick in Ireland, studying abroad at UMassD this semester. O’Dwyer is also a member of the Irish Naval Reserve, serving under the Seaman’s branch – one of only around 120 members in his section of the Irish military. O’Dwyer enjoys spending his time in nature, running, and studying history and law.
O’Dwyer attested into the Irish Naval Reserve on August 18, 2021, a member of the Limerick Unit out of Sarsfields Barracks. As a recruit, he is expected to complete forty hours of voluntary service per year, as well as a minimum of two weeks of paid service. Despite his busy schedule and travel to the U.S., O’Dwyer remains committed to his service.
“For my voluntary service, I spend 2 hours every Wednesday night learning new commands and skills, such as how to disassemble your rifle, or how to tie different kinds of knots,” O’Dwyer says. “The Irish military is smaller than America's, so we mostly respond to things like the United Nations' peacekeeping missions, responding to crises, or providing humanitarian aid.”
O’Dwyer says that his motivation behind joining was based on a sense of duty.
“In Ireland, the benefits for veterans are not nearly as good. The pay isn’t very good either, so you really have to enjoy what you do, and want to be part of a team,” said O'Dwyer. “There are record numbers of Irish joining the UK army because of the better pay and benefits, but it’s about more than that to me. I have a lot of pride in Ireland, so that’s what I find important. I really enjoy history, which definitely plays into my motivation to join. All of the symbolism in the military has passed through centuries of tradition, dating back to ancient warriors.”
Ireland’s military history is filled with pride and patriotism, dating back to the Celtic warriors.
“My great-grandfather was imprisoned by the UK Army during the War of Independence in the 1920s," says O'Dwyer. "When he was in prison, he made a mural out of cloth he had available of General Liam Lynch, an Irish Republican General that was killed in the Irish Civil war.”
General Lynch was anti-treaty, meaning that he did not support the treaty that gave up the six counties in Northern Ireland. Etched into the mural is a harp and clovers, the symbol of Ireland, as well as the year 1916 stitched into the cloth.
“1916 was the Irish Easter Rising – it kicked everything off and inspired the uprisings,” says O’Dwyer.
Once Ireland became a Free State, his great-grandfather returned and built a home in County Limerick on their ancestral lands where O’Dwyer and his family still live today.
O’Dwyer lives on a beef farm with about 40 cows in County Limerick, “I really just love being in nature and spending my time outdoors,” O’Dwyer says. “We’ve got a lot of cows and horses, so I’ve known how to ride horses since I was a child. My uncle actually has a horse and carriage that we sometimes use for fun on the weekends. I still live in the same house my great-grandfather built after the War of Independence, so I think that plays a part in my interest in history and the military.”
Outside of the military and his farm, O’Dwyer also enjoys running, having completed the Great Limerick Run – a full marathon in his home county. O’Dwyer also completed the New Bedford Half Marathon this year while attending UMass Dartmouth. In secondary school, O’Dwyer also played Rugby.
Time in America
During his time in the United States, O’Dwyer has traveled across New England and down the east coast, visiting Washington D.C. and Virginia.
“It’s a lot different than in Ireland, especially because I’m from the countryside. Life is a lot slower there, which I like a bit more, but I’ve really enjoyed it here,” says O'Dwyer.
As a Law and Accounting student, O’Dwyer finds particular interest in the American legal system.
“American law is very interesting. It actually influences Irish law, as Ireland’s court system is loosely based around the U.S. Supreme Court,” O’Dwyer says. “Ireland and the U.S. share the Common Law Legal system, and we sometimes use U.S. laws as common law. Landmark cases such as Griswold v. Connecticut have been referenced by Irish Supreme Court Justices when related issues have been discussed."
O’Dwyer has made the most of his time here, visiting historical sites like the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington, VA, the Lincoln memorial, the Washington memorial, the Supreme Court, the Smithsonian, the White House, Capitol building, and the Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C.
“I definitely want to come back; I only had three days, but it was an amazing experience I really enjoyed. I’m hoping to come back when the White House and Capitol are opened back up,” says O'Dwyer.
After he graduates from the University of Limerick, O’Dwyer hopes to commission as an officer in the Irish Defense Forces, particularly the Irish Air Corps, where he hopes to become a pilot.
“I’ve always had an interest in flying. When I was around 15 years old I actually took classes and got 25 hours of flying, but I had to stop before I could complete it,” O’Dwyer says. “I really enjoyed it and I’d like to fly the CN-235, a maritime patrol aircraft.”
“Overall, I’ve had a great time in the United States and at UMass Dartmouth. The university has been wonderful, and it’s been a great experience to study here,” says O’Dwyer.
“The Student Veteran’s Association was extremely welcoming, so I want to extend a thank you to them. It’s been a great experience to see how friendly and caring the community is. Since I have been away from Ireland, I have missed friends in my Unit. The SVA always has a friendly and jovial atmosphere that any service member can appreciate, as well as great people with great conversations.”
Javier Villanueva III, Vice-President of the Student Veterans Association, says the feeling is mutual. “[O’Dwyer] has been an absolute pleasure. He’s very driven to make the world a better place and wants to help people in his community. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, that’s something that every veteran respects. I know he will make an excellent addition to the Irish Defense Forces.”
O’Dwyer will return to the University of Limerick at the end of this semester, before graduating in 2023. Before leaving, O’Dwyer generously donated his Irish flag to the Student Veterans Association, which proudly displays it in the university-provided veteran space, next to the flag of the United States.