Accompanied by staff and donor supporters, The Irish American Partnership’s board of directors travelled to Ireland this August on a mission to evaluate the impact of their funding decisions and to learn more about Irish education as the Partnership begins to set policies for additional support. During the trip, the board disbursed grants of $76,000, which brings the total amount of gifts sent to Ireland since November 2013 to $624,000.
From small rural schools to the larger ones in the cities, and to the universities and job training centers, the Partnership programs include professional development for teachers in science, access to scholarships for college students, and direct grants to primary schools that are struggling to make ends meet.
Over five days, and at 26 meetings and visits, members of the mission visited schools in West Cork, universities, teacher training and high tech employment training programs in Dublin and Ulster University, and several schools in Belfast. There were also informational meetings at The IDA, Foreign affairs in Dublin and meetings with MLAs in Stormont. Minister of Education in the North John O’Dowd talked with the group about the education system there and members of the group had a meeting with the Department of Education in Dublin.
Three universities – Trinity, University of Ulster, and Dublin City University – were presented grants of $10,000 each for their “ACCESS” programs, which assist qualified underprivileged students in their pursuit of their university degrees. Three schools in Belfast received grants – St. Louise’s High School on the Falls Road ($5,000); Avoneil Primary School in East Belfast ($5,000); and Drumlins Integrated School in Ballinahinch ($10,000). And two primary schools in West Cork – Derryclough National School in Drinagh ($2,000) and the Inchigeelagh National School in Inchigeelagh ($2,000) – received funding to assist their work.
Baroness May Blood greeted the Partnership group at the Drumlins school and said, “You and your board are great friends to Northern Ireland and your continued involvement makes a huge difference to life here across all areas of education, business and reconciliation.”
One of the highlights of the leadership mission was the welcoming dinner at Belfast City Hall where the new lord mayor, Nichola Mallon, hosted the group. Mallon spoke of the Boston/Belfast Sister City agreement signed early this year by former Lord Mayor Máirtín O’Muilleoir and Boston’s Mayor Marty Walsh. Mallon will be coming to Boston in October to further strengthen the ties between our two cities.
The President of Dublin City Universit, Professor Brian MacCraith, also honored the Partnership’s mission with a dinner in the President’s House on the University Campus later in the week. MacCraith announced an ambitious new building program for St. Patrick’s Teaching College, which is now officially part of Dublin City University. The Irish American Partnership has worked with St. Patrick’s Teaching College for nearly 15 years, focusing on science teaching in primary schools in rural western Ireland schools.
It was a very busy week, but a lot was learned. Perhaps the most important lesson is that the Irish people whom the Partnership supports are most grateful, not just for the funding but also for the interest that Americans have shown in helping to create a better Ireland. Mission participants received a sincere welcome wherever they went. The teachers, administrators, and officials are fiercely proud of the work they do and the fact that a group of Irish Americans are taking the time and raising the money to support them.