The Ireland Funds

In a week saturated with predictions of economic gloom and doom, political chaos, and even dire prophesies of the breakdown of social and civil society as we know it, it was hard to find a ‘good news’ story. But tucked away in the Business pages of The Irish Times was a heartening report by Ciarán Hancock, Finance Correspondent of The Irish Times about the success of a philanthropic venture that recently celebrated its 40th anniversary



Sir Anthony O’Reilly

The Ireland Funds, founded in May 1976 was ‘the brainchild’ of an Irish businessman, Sir Anthony O’Reilly and Dan Rooney, an entrepreneur and former US Ambassador to Ireland.


Its aims were to establish a ‘philanthropic network’ to harvest (initially American) good will for worthy causes in Ireland.

The Worldwide Ireland Funds are a philanthropic network that supports worthy causes in Ireland and around the world. Our mission is to be the largest network of friends of Ireland dedicated to supporting programs of peace and reconciliation, arts and culture, education and community development throughout the island of Ireland.

 However the fund can now boast that:

The Worldwide Ireland Funds currently operate in 12 countries and have raised over $500 million for over 3,000 outstanding organizations

But it was far from successful at first and the standing joke was that the only reason another dinner was held in 1977 was to pay the bills for the first one!

Nowadays the funds raise $US 540 million for projects both north and south of the Border with over 3000 organisations contributing to its coffers. Initially its aim was:

to encourage well-meaning Irish Americans(who) could contribute to the building of peace in Ireland,

according to Maurice Hayes, a former funds chairman. However chapters have been established in 12 countries – including Australia (see: The Ireland Fund).

Burrenbeo Trust

Burrenbeo Trust

An impressive €226 million in six years, more than double its original target, was raised by the Promising Ireland’ campaign, launched in 2009 to assist the Irish economy in the wake of the global financial crash.


A glossy hardback publication to commemorate the first four decades of the organisation has been produced to mark its anniversary. It includes contributions by the co-founders O’Reilly and Rooney. Dan Rooney’s contribution highlights how the funds had to ‘overcome the stigma of money for guns’, against the backdrop of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

‘At first, many people thought we were just another group trying to get guns to fight the peace effort, but we carried on and the idea for peace came to the fore. We were for peace and we were going to stay with it, Rooney states.

O’Reilly’s contribution is mostly a commentary on the social and political history of Ireland, providing a context for partition and the Troubles. He believes that the funds contributed to laying the groundwork for the peace process.

‘We will not achieve our goals of peace, culture and charity in our lifetimes but we will have passed to future generations our vision of a truly noble and inspiring Ireland,’ O’Reilly states.

O’Reilly’s recalls that initially there was much scepticism about the work of the funds. Nowadays it is less about ‘money for guns’ so much as the scandals involving money for the administrators of many large charities, some of whom now face criminal charges for the misuse of funds of their charities.

Good causes on the island need the likes of the Ireland Funds now more than ever. As O’Reilly remarks, ‘We must continue.’

Source: Ciarán Hancock, Financial Correspondent of the Irish Times 06/07/2016