From the moment the 250+ supporters arrived in Cork for The Worldwide Ireland Funds Conference in Cork, it was evident that this would be a very special three days. Eight countries were represented as guests gathered to hear about the progress of the Promising Ireland campaign and see the difference that the campaign was making for local projects in Cork. The setting for the gathering was Castlemartyr, a stunning mansion and conference space.
A welcome lunch was held at Castlemartyr as the first official event. Supporters were welcomed by President & CEO Kieran McLoughlin who gave an overview of the importance of the Promising Ireland campaign and the opportunities supporters would have over the next few days to hear of its impact on over 350 outstanding projects and organizations. Kenn Joyce was recognized for his work with The Ireland Fund of China as he was stepping down as Chairman. AIF Board Director Denis Healey spoke to the group about the work he was doing with support from The American Ireland Fund to establish an Irish Pavilion at the Korean War Memorial in memory of the Irish and Irish-American soldiers who served and died in Korea.
Supporters then fanned out in groups and were welcomed to the Glucksman Gallery at University College Cork, Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind, Music Generation Cork, NASC – the Irish Immigration Centre, Rebel Wheelers, and Irish Dogs for the Disabled. The groups had diverse hands-on experiences ranging from an inspirational musical performance at Music Generation where a young man with cerebral palsy debuted a piece he had meticulously written with his eye movements, to a game of wheelchair rugby with beneficiaries at Rebel Wheelers – a multi-sport club for Cork’s children, including those with disabilities. RTE television covered the afternoon visit at Music Generation. All of the projects were delighted to have the chance to thank donors and supporters in person for their support of the Promising Ireland campaign.
The group reconvened later in the evening for the opening dinner which was hosted by Irish Riverdance star Michael Flatley and his wife Niamh at their home, Castlehyde. Guests were greeted at the door by Michael and Niamh and enjoyed a wonderful dinner punctuated by the presentation of a Pittsburgh Steelers-signed football from US Ambassador Dan Rooney. Members of the group were also able to tour their private wine cellar after Michael and Niamh were inducted as honorary members of The Ireland Funds WineGeese Society. The coaches made their way back to Castlemartyr later in the evening so that the group could rest up for a big day of planning and strategy on Friday.
The day began with the Plenary Session for all of those in attendance. The strategic heartbeat of the gathering in Ireland was this session where supporters heard from Ireland Funds leadership about the progress of the Promising Ireland campaign and plans to come.
Hugo Macneill, the Chairman of The Ireland Funds in Ireland first spoke to the group about the impact that the Promising Ireland campaign had made to so many organizations in Ireland.
Kieran McLoughlin, President & CEO of The Worldwide Ireland Funds then delivered the big announcement of the day. Those gathered already knew that the Promising Ireland campaign had smashed through its original goal of raising $100 million for charities, 19 months ahead of the campaign’s end. Kieran announced that the Board of Directors had approved the increase of the campaign’s goal to $140 million to be raised by the end of 2013. The announcement was met resolve and enthusiasm by those gathered and all agreed to help The Ireland Funds achieve this magnificent goal to help charities in Ireland and beyond.
Caitriona Fottrell, vice president spoke about the impact of the latest grant round that had also just been announced. Over 900 applications had been received from organizations seeking funding. The grant round would be delivering much-needed support to over 150 worthy organizations doing work on the ground. The grant round is core to the mission of The Ireland Funds and was the largest ever grant round in the history of the organization.
The delegates discussed how the Fund could enhance its support of Ireland at this crucial time by contributing to its economic recovery and helping to restore its reputation. Scott Nichols, Vice President for Development at Boston University and an acknowledged authority on philanthropy, spoke of how the Fund maturing into an institute with a great mission and network.
After the Plenary Session, over 60 Young leaders gathered for an afternoon of recapping, brainstorming and planning. Young Leaders from every chapter were present to hear an update on the program and share their experiences. Loretta Brennan Glucksman welcomed the group and reiterated the importance of their role in the organization. Pat Tully, National Director of the Young leaders and Caitlin Duffy, Irish Young Leader Director kicked off the session by providing an update on the program since the Inaugural Young Leaders Summit in January.
The presentation included an update on the new governance and communication plan of which some features include a unified committee structure within every chapter and an online member directory to allow delegates to access and communicate with their peers. Additionally, there is a new blog feature maintained by the young leader directors who welcome all that want to share their experiences with The Fund whether it be at events or with the projects we support.
The session also included an update on the $1.35 million fundraising goal by the end of 2013. The group was delighted to learn they are 1/3 of the way there just five months since setting the target at their summit in NYC. The session wrapped up with a panel discussion concentrating on the recruitment and retention of members plus unique ideas for Young Leader fundraising.
The evening capped off with the highlight event of the Conference: the
Gala dinner at the famous Ballymaloe House in Shanagarry. The
buzz had been building for days about the arrival of former US President
Bill Clinton. President Clinton had travelled to Cork to attend the
evening along with An Taoiseach Enda Kenny to celebrate the progress of
the Promising Ireland campaign.
American Ireland Fund Board Member Declan Kelly introduced President
Clinton by recalling his contributions to Ireland over the last two
decades. The President complimented the Fund on the success of the
Promising Ireland Campaign and its new goal. He said this was clear
evidence of the undiminished concern of the diaspora for Ireland. The
Taoiseach expressed gratitude, on behalf of all present, to President
Clinton for his great and ongoing dedication to Ireland. He said Ireland
would recover with the support of Irish family who are a crucial factor
of this process.
Loretta Brennan Glucksman, Chairman of The American Ireland Fund,
introduced Nobel Laureate and longtime friend of The Ireland Funds Seamus
Heaney. She recapped that Seamus had been the second recipient of The
American Ireland Fund AWB Vincent Literary Award many years ago.
Loretta added a personal note to the evening by reading a poem that had
been written for her by Seamus Heaney years ago. Seamus Heaney took the
stage. Seamus Heaney recalled his own career as a struggling poet and
the difference receiving the Ireland Fund’s Literary Award made to him
as he established his reputation. He said he had taken great joy being
associated with the program for 40 years and seeing new and emerging
artists who were encouraged and supported. He reflected on how Ireland’s
artistic capacity and creativity was important in these difficult
Supporters retired late that evening to the Knight’s Bar at Castlemartyr
for a terrific sing-song and after-party that kept the celebration
going. Well into the night (and morning for some), the party continued in true irish style.
The final day of the Conference began with terrific coverage in Ireland’s news outlets about the Promising Ireland campaign and the impact it was having for hundreds of charities across Ireland and beyond.
It was also a day of relaxation and an opportunity for visitors to see some of the highlights of the Cork area. Golfers in the group had the opportunity to tee off at the esteemed golf course of Old Head. Another group visited the Midleton Distillery and learned the steps in Irish whiskey making. Lastly, a group went to Lismore Castle – an ancient Irish estate and former home of the Devonshires and the Mitfords. Lord Burlington son of the Duke of Devonshire and the Castle’s current resident, joined the group to provide a private tour.
Later that evening, Chairman Loretta Brennan Glucksman opened her home – East Grove House – as the venue for the closing dinner of the Conference. Supporters gathered in this beautiful space for a relaxed evening of splendid food and live Irish music that got guests dancing and singing together. Loretta spoke eloquently abut the importance and “specialness” of the gathering, about the good work that was being done by The Ireland Funds, and of her hope that the group would gather again a year from now. The Irish National anthem was sung with emotion by the group, closing the Conference ended on a high and emotional note.