For almost 30 years, the Irish American Partnership, which was founded in Ireland “to organize Irish American support on behalf of job creation, education, and economic development in Ireland,” has assisted the island’s primary schools, universities, and special programs in meeting their goals.
And now, with the partnership being led by a new team at the top and the naming of three prominent Irish Americans to the board of directors, the organization is fully prepared to build on the strength and reputation that has been created over the last three decades.
Michael Clune of Chicago, the owner of a construction company with offices in Dublin and throughout the United States who has been an important supporter of the partnership for many years, is succeeding John Murray as chairman of the board of directors. John, a businessman who has served as chairman for 15 years and is one of the organization’s leading financial supporters, has led several partnership leadership missions to Ireland where the visitors presented grants to primary schools and universities in both the North and South.
Mary Sugrue, a native of Cahirciveen, Co. Kerry who has been the partnership’s executive director, has been appointed president and chief executive, succeeding Joe Leary, who has retired after serving for 28 years.
Three prominent Irish American leaders have agreed to join the partnership’s board: Donal O’Brian, Esq. of Chicago; David Greaney, CPA, of Boston; and Aidan F. Browne, Esq. of Boston. All three have been supporters of the partnership for a number of years.
Encouraged by an Irish Parliament grant of 50,000 Irish pounds in 1986, a group of Irish educators, government officials, businessmen, and politicians from the North and South of the country came together to form an organization whose purpose it was to create a supportive partnership between Irish Americans and Ireland.
With the help of Irish American business and political leaders, the partnership has grown and prospered in the United States. Under the leadership of Gen. P.X. Kelley (USMC, Retired) of Washington, DC, and John Murray, the organization has focused its funding in Ireland on assisting Irish education as an effective way to help strengthen Ireland in the years ahead.
In its early days, the partnership was seed-funded by American philanthropist Charles Feeney, and its spokesman and public advocate was the former speaker of the US House of Representatives, the Honorable Thomas P. “ Tip ” O’Neill Jr.
Much has been accomplished over the past thirty years, during which time thousands of Irish Americans have generously supported partnership programs in Ireland.
Hundreds of Irish primary schools and thousands of Irish children and their teachers have benefitted from American funds to assist science teaching and library building programs in rural western Ireland. Schools in depressed areas of Limerick, Cork, Dublin, Belfast, and Derry have also received grants to help their teachers and students. And universities throughout Ireland have received funding that has enabled qualified disadvantaged high school graduates to attend college.
Working with St. Patrick’s teaching college in Dublin and Mary Immaculate teaching college in Limerick, the partnership has funded multiple programs to enhance science- teacher training. The partnership has also supported master’s degrees in business programs at the Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School at University College Dublin, National University of Ireland Galway, and the Cork Institute of Technology.
As part of its many programs in Northern Ireland, the Partnership has long supported integrated schools, with a focus on growth schools and those getting started in mixed neighborhoods where the population is changing and state funding is limited. The partnership has also supported many community organizations who specialize in cross community work.
For several years now, the partnership has helped fund special training programs in Dublin and Belfast for the underemployed and the jobless. The organization, named FIT and supported by local corporations and the government, has placed or upgraded nearly 10,000 young non-college men and women in new more productive employment.
The partnership has provided strong support to science fairs in Ireland that encourage primary schools and their teachers to design and develop science projects and submit them for acceptance into formal exhibitions. The idea is to foster enthusiasm for science, remove some of its mystery, and show the world what can be done by cooperating students and teachers.
In one of its largest programs, the partnership has continued to support the RDS Primary School Science Fairs in Dublin and Limerick. One hundred and eighty primary schools (120 in Dublin 120 and 60 in Limerick) participated last January. The RDS and the participating schools have been very enthusiastic about the success of these events and are planning to enlarge the program next year with a fair in Belfast.
With a new chairman, a revitalized board of directors, and the enthusiastic talents and experience of its new president, the partnership is looking forward to substantial growth in the years ahead.
Editor’s Note: The author of this article has just retired after serving as president and CEO of the Irish American Partnership for 28 years. He has been named president emeritus.