Pioneer of Irish youth development


MICHAEL B CLEARY:MICHAEL CLEARY, who died recently aged 73, was director of Foróige, the National Youth Development Organisation.

Born in Cloughjordan, Co Tipperary, Michael was the youngest of six children. He received his early education at the local national school, at Borrisokane Vocational school, in Pallaskenry Agricultural College and at Oatlands College before entering University College Dublin where took degrees in agriculture and social science.

While at UCD, he met arts student Ena Leahy from Listowel, and they were married in July 1963. They shared a wonderful family life, enriched by their five children, Sheila, Anne, Máire, Conn and Elizabeth.

After working with the Agricultural Credit Corporation for three years, Cleary joined Macra na Tuaithe in 1967, and was be its visionary leader for 36 years.

He oversaw the organisation’s development from a vocational school-based one led by rural science teachers to a community-based enterprise led by trained volunteer leaders and democratically governed by them; from a programme of rural science projects to a comprehensive curriculum of out-of-school educational programmes; from a rural organisation to a youth development movement based in towns, cities and country areas; from Macra na Tuaithe in 1967 to Foróige, the National Youth Development Organisation, in 1981.

Cleary’s vision, zeal and unremitting commitment to the educational thrust of youth work and to the development of innovative pedagogical approaches have had a major influence on the curriculum in mainstream education.

The Foróige Young Achievers Programme was adopted as mini-companies in many schools. Its citizenship and leadership programmes underpin much of the civic, social and political education syllabus at second level.

Cleary and his expanding team professionally supported volunteer leaders in setting up hundreds of Foróige clubs. In the 1980s he began establishing over 80 Foróige-run local youth services and projects nationwide in partnership with VECs and other State bodies.

Cleary retired in 2003, having left an indelible imprint on an organisation involving 40,000 young people, 4,000 volunteers, 170 staff and an annual budget of nearly €10 million.

His transforming contribution to Irish life and especially to the development of youth services in Ireland was recognised by the award to him of the degree of doctor of laws, honoris causa, by the National University of Ireland Maynooth, in 2004.

Michael Cleary: born May 19th, 1938; died April 28th, 2012.