Donors to The Ireland Funds visit Irish charities to which they donate

President Michael D Higgins announces that the Promising Ireland Campaign will have raised $150 million by the year’s end

Denis Healy of the Ireland Fund gets cooking with students at the King Boys’ National School, Cabra. From left, Diego Paczkowski, Ryan Henderson Dylan Kenny and Richey Farrell. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Posters crowd the walls of the computer room of the Belvedere Youth Club in Dublin's inner city, warning the kids that food and drink are banned and to keep their feet off the hard drives.

But among the A4 sheets hangs a stylish plaque which informs those who read it that this project is supported by the Ireland Funds.

Yesterday eight donors visited the club to see where their money goes. They are part of a 200-strong delegation visiting Ireland for the funds’ annual conference, which is being held in the K Club in Co Kildare.

As the kids queue noisily outside, the donors sit listening to director Paul Brady who tells them this is the country’s oldest youth club. Originally called the News Boys’ Club, it was set up in 1918 to address poverty among newspaper sellers. The problems faced by its current members are no less pressing.


"This is one of the most disadvantaged areas, not only in Dublin but in the country," Mr Brady tells a rapt audience which includes entrepreneurs, businesspeople and financiers.

Gangland culture
He describes club members who avoid going home "because there's nobody to go home to"; a "chronic drug culture" in the area; drug pushers who use kids to run drugs "on a daily basis"; and a gangland culture which has led to some of the club's members getting caught up in shootings and bank robberies.

“It’s just reality,” he says simplyand starkly.

For the past five years the club has run a lunch club which feeds between 60 and 80 children a day. Mr Brady says they have noticed a marked increase in need as a result of the recession: “We hear kids talking, saying, I’ll have my dinner now because I’ll not get my dinner when I go home.”

The youth club offers members help with their homework, pool tables and sports facilities; it runs an annual show and a summer camp. “What we do, we do as well as we can, for as many as we can,” he says.

Across town in a national school in Cabra, Denis John Healy, a philanthropist and chairman of Turtle Wax, a firm founded by his father-in-law Ben Hirsch, tells of his first experiences of philanthropy.

“In the 1930s we used to send our used clothes back to Kerry,” he said, adding that, as he was the third son, the clothes would have already been worn by his brothers. “I used to think how bad off can they be back there if they want our clothes and we have nothing.”

This initial charity, picked up from his Cork- and Kerry-born parents led to his involvement in The Ireland Funds, from its foundation in 1976.

Since that time the funds’ private philanthropists have raised over $450 million, benefitting 1,200 charities on both sides of the Border.

Despite the improvements in Ireland’s fortunes in the interim, Mr Healy says “there are still a lot of people in need”.

Yesterday he and his wife Sondra were helping to make quiches in a cookery class alongside young chefs in a Kids in the Kitchen class.

Set up five years ago by Victoria MacKechnie the project teaches children and parents to cook using healthy, cheap and easily-obtained ingredients.

Ms MacKechnie says the Ireland Funds’ support has allowed her to teach an extra eight courses for parents as well as kids and helped bring the project to new areas, some of them disadvantaged.

Tara McCabe, a director of the American Ireland Fund, says the opportunity to get hands on with the projects is "really special".

"I think it's really important to come and visit the projects and see what's going on. In New York and throughout the US there's a lot of great support and energy behind supporting Ireland."

That support was underlined yesterday when, in a reception for the donors in Áras an Uachtaráin, President Michael D Higgins noted that the fund’s most recent initiative, the Promising Ireland Campaign, will have raised $150 million by the end of this year, $50 million above target.