Today is Saint Patrick’s Day, and what better way to celebrate than getting a firsthand scoop on this Irish national holiday? In honor of St. Paddy’s Day, it just made sense to look to native son of Swainsboro and current Galway, Ireland resident Will Avery for this particular installment of “Finding Our Folks.” Avery sat down with The Chronicle via Zoom last Thursday and gave an interesting interview. During that time, he talked about all things Ireland, the vast differences between there and home, and how growing up here in Swainsboro helped him prepare for such a life-changing move.
Avery, now 40-years-old, is a product of Emanuel County at the heart. His parents are Cal and Marisue Avery of Swainsboro. Their son graduated from Swainsboro High in 1999 and went on to the University of Georgia, from which he graduated in 2004 with a degree in anthropology. Avery used that degree as an archaeologist for five or six years thereafter, yet he would take another educational and career turn before settling down into his current profession.
After his completed his time as an archaeologist, Avery went back to school to get a degree to become a teacher. He spent a couple years in the classroom at the University of West Georgia and East Paulding High.
“When the archaeology work was starting to slow down, I thought about something somebody told me once... They said there are only a few things that are recession-proof: teaching, video games, or beer. People are still going to drink beer during a recession, they’re going to play video games, and you need teachers. So, I knew the work wouldn’t last much longer and I went back to school to be a teacher,” Avery explained.
However, he wasn’t a teacher for long, though. Put plainly, Avery figured out he didn’t like it much. On the flip side, what he did enjoy was brewing beer, which fortunately and inadvertently fit the bill of the job description he was looking for and ultimately led him to where he is today.
Avery initially became involved in the world of beer production working with a small brewery in Kennesaw. Burnt Hickoy Brewery needed some part-time help, and Avery, with a keen interest in the behind-the-scenes work, reported there for free for about six months. His dedication paid off when the higher-ups there figured out they weren’t going to get rid of Avery and consequently offered him a job.
“I kept coming back and coming back and volunteering. I wasn’t going to leave on my own, and I think they saw that. I’d say they probably felt guilty at first and decided to give me a paycheck,” Avery said with a laugh to follow. “No, but seriously... I was pretty good at the job and got offered the head brewer job there.”
That was in 2012. Avery and his two children, Asher, who recently turned 9, and Erin, who recently turned 12, went to Ireland in the summer of 2015 for a family vacation. Little did he know, that trip would change their lives.
Avery says when brewers travel, they naturally seek out breweries and other beer craftsmen. That’s precisely what he did in Ireland. During his trip, Avery emailed Galway Bay Brewery and gave the brewer a heads-up. The two met and hung out for a few days, “drank a few pints,” and simply had a pleasant time and formed a great connection. Six months after Avery returned to the U.S., he received a call from the brewer, asking about his potential interest in moving abroad and coming to run Galway Bay Brewery since he as the head brewer would soon be leaving to run another beer facility in Switzerland. One month later, Avery was on an airplane, moving to Ireland. His family followed a few months later.
Today, Avery has been there for a little more than five years and he is now going through the process of becoming an Irish citizen. Looking back, he’s just as calm and collected about living there as he was about making the move in the moment.
Of course, he talked things over with his family, and Cal and Marisue gave their son their blessing from the very beginning. The move was also made easier by the fact that his children were at young, adventurous, resilient-to-change ages.
Life is absolutely grand in Ireland now, but that’s not to say Avery didn’t have some adjusting and improvising to do early on. He told of a time when his luggage got lost for three weeks when he moved to Ireland, leaving him with only his small carry-on bag.
“All I had was my backpack! I didn’t have pants, shirts, or anything! I had to go buy all new stuff and just get on with it,” Avery said with another laugh.
Logistically speaking, Avery says moving to Ireland was surprisingly easier than you might think because he, in his own words, “took things in small steps as opposed to big chunks.” For instance, he rented a place in the area while he looked for a more permanent living arrangement suited for his entire family, who came three months later.
Ireland itself came with some challenges, but Avery and his family fully embraced the changes and have come to love them. Ireland has extremely long days and short nights as well as some crazy weather, namely “sideways rain,” during certain parts of the year. (Needless to say, the Averys have invested in quality blackout curtains and sturdy umbrellas!) The pace of life there is much slower, too.
Conversely, there are many things the Avery Family loved from the beginning. For starters, the scenery. They live on the west coast, home to beautiful oceanscape with plenty of things to do in nature, like kayaking and hiking, pre-COVID.
The Averys also thoroughly enjoy the general friendliness of the Irish people. According to Swainsboro’s own, Galway is about the size of Statesboro—so growing up in a small-town, learning to get along with others, has proven to be tremendously helpful to him over there. That, he says, is something he’s passing on to his kids.
Also atop Avery’s list of things he loves about his new home is the amount of time off from work and free healthcare. According to Avery, those qualities are perhaps the best indicators of how Ireland cares for its people and best demonstrate how life there prioritizes family and general love for your fellow man over everything.
Another thing Avery loves about Ireland? Saint Patrick’s Day, of course! He recalled his first over there:
“My first St. Paddy’s Day here, leading up to it, I thought it was probably an Americanized holiday, that the Irish probably didn’t take it as seriously as we did back home. Boy was I wrong! It’s a national holiday, and we go all out. I would equate it to the Fourth of July back home.”
For context, Avery explained that Ireland is a predominantly Catholic country, and you can’t find a single snake there. An old tale claims that Saint Patrick banished all snakes from Ireland—but that’s really just an allegory for Saint Patrick converting all the Pagans to Christianity. In short, Saint Patrick’s Day there is a time to celebrate Ireland’s history and culture, and it makes for great fun every March 17 when a pandemic isn’t happening.
Saint Paddy’s Day will look a little different again this year due to coronavirus. Last year, the entire country shut down early spring of last year and canceled all festivities. Such will be the case again this year. Avery hasn’t been permitted to travel outside a 3-mile radius of his home for a year now, unless he has truly necessary business to tend to.
While he understands the necessity, the travel restrictions are frustrating in regard to daily life. Those same restrictions have also stopped all travel into and out of Ireland, so his parents’ visits to see him and their grandchildren have been barred. Thankfully, the Averys can look to technology to fill the gap as best as possible. Cal and Marisue meet Will, Eren, and Asher online via Zoom or FaceTime pretty regularly.
All in all, Avery is looking forward to the day when he and his two kids can live life normally again. In the meantime, he has some advice for people here at home looking to either chase a wild dream or simply visit Ireland when the pandemic ends. His best words of wisdom include:
• Just go for it! He says this mentality helped him make the move to Ireland, much to the credit of Cal’s wisdom. Avery explained he didn’t want to wake up 10 years from now and wonder what would’ve happened had he not taken the risk, and he suggests everyone else do the same.
• Don’t visit during tourist season. Instead, come to Ireland in early spring or late fall. Those are the best times of year in terms of weather, availability, and business.
• When you do come to Ireland, don’t default to visiting Dublin. The best places to visit in Ireland, according to Avery, are the rural areas. In those places, you’ll meet the friendliest of the friendly and see the best of the countryside.
• Finally, if anyone from Swainsboro is ever “in his neck of the woods,” look him up! In his first few months of living abroad, Avery says he met with and entertained numerous friends of friends. He’d love to reconnect with people from his hometown on his own turf and maybe have a beer or two—on him!