In the year 2014, The Experiment will celebrate 50 years in Ireland; and on this occasion, EIL Ireland will host the 2014 General Assembly of the worldwide network of the Experiment in International Living.
EIL Ireland’s history begins in 1964 just after the assassination of John F. Kennedy and just before the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Martin Luther King, Jr. The first group to arrive in Ireland came from the United States.
Planning for the visit started the previous year, and among the small core group involved was writer Maeve Binchy; while Eddie Cassidy, who worked for Aer Lingus, emerged as the leading force in the development of the organization.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s the number of people coming into and leaving Ireland on Experiment programmes varied considerably, but at one time it was in excess of 120 participants. The original office in Dublin was forced to close, however, after political events made travel to Ireland restrictive.
In 1975, Carol Bergin, who had led a number of Experiment Groups from the US to Ireland (and who had eventually married and settled in Ireland) worked with SIT founder, Dr. John Wallace, and Federation EIL’s Secretary General, Dr. Renza Rosso, to assume responsibility for representing The Experiment in Ireland.
In the 10 years that followed, the base of Experiment in Ireland moved to Kilkenny; the organization joined the National Youth Council of Ireland; and began to access European funding. Together with Dr. Alvino Fantini of the US Experiment, they pioneered intercultural training for Experiment staff based in Europe and opened new opportunities for young Irish people through the J-I Visa/Au Pair programme to the USA.
By the mid to late 1980s under the leadership of Carol Bergin and the part time administrative support of Margaret O’Hehir, a former host mother, the organization was now well rooted in Ireland. A chance meeting at a UNESCO Conference in the Greek Island of Rhodes in 1985 opened the door to the next chapter of the development of The Experiment in Ireland.
It was there that Bergin, who was representing The Experiment at the UNESCO meeting, met Kevin Hickey from Cork and later enlisted him and colleague Paul Conway to help her reorganise and rebuild The Experiment in Ireland. In September 1988, EIL was legally registered as a Limited Company (Not for Profit) in Ireland and by that time a new national committee was also meeting on a monthly basis.
On January 1, 1989 Kevin took on the role of full time National Director of EIL in Ireland. In July of that year, an office was opened in Cork City. In partnership with Theresa Compagno (a youth worker from Cork who was then Chair of the National Board), Paul Conway and Margaret O’Hehir, EIL Ireland entered a new chapter.
That year there was a combined total of 302 inbound and outbound participants on EIL Ireland programmes. By 1996, this number had risen to 1,460 participants.
With the help of European Funding, a series of ground-breaking conflict resolution programmes which linked young people from Northern Ireland with Israel, Palestine, South Africa, Armenia, and Azerbaijan took place during the 1990s. This unique combination of intercultural learning and conflict resolution was widely acclaimed and much copied. EIL Ireland took a lead role in the development of Guidelines for Child Safety in Youth Exchange Programmes and the document to emerge in 2002 was subsequently adopted as the Guidelines for The Youth in Action Programmes of The European Commission.
Between 1994 and 2013, EIL Ireland also invested over $800,000 US in fully funded and partially funded travel awards for 654 programme participants, mainly young Irish people. The first EIL Travel Award (Scholarship) took place in 1994 to Japan. Since 2003, EIL Ireland has received an administrative grant each year from The Irish Ministry for Youth Affairs; while a Global Education/Development Education Programme which focuses on returned participants and Alumni has received funding from Irish Aid since 2005.
The work of EIL Ireland is now overseen by a very energetic Board of Directors, which consists mostly of former Travel Award winners, selected each year from a network of over 800 people. The Chair of the Board, Judy Roche, is a solicitor who first travelled as an “Experimenter” to Ecuador when she was 16 years old on an EIL Travel Award.
This year as EIL Ireland celebrates its 50th anniversary, the mortgage on the landmark building in Cork city, which is now home to a staff of 14 people, will be fully paid. The work is Cork is supported by 12 EIL Local Co-ordinators based in Mayo, Galway, Clare, Kerry, Cork, Limerick, Tipperary, Waterford, Wexford, Louth and Meath, along with 4 to 6 group leaders who complete the team every spring and summer.
And now for the next 50 years!