For years, students at NUI Galway and GMIT lived the American dream during the summer months on J1 working visas in the United States.
Now, a Galway father-and-daughter duo is offering a flavour of the ‘Irish dream’ to US students, through a unique summer school in Salthill.
Eight American high school students, aged 15, 16 and 17 enjoyed a jam-packed diverse programme of learning and activities over the past fortnight at the Galway Celtic Irish American Academy.
The concept is similar to summer language school students from the continent who travel here to learn English.
Except with this new academy, the American students learn about Irish culture, history, business, volunteering and much more, while being immersed in Irish life, living with host families in Salthill.
It is the first of its kind in the West of Ireland.
The two-week programme mixes teaching in the classroom setting, with exciting day trips and excursions, as well as sports and everything in between.
The academy was founded by Brian Fahy, an English and history teacher at St Enda’s College on Threadneedle Road, and his eldest daughter, Dr Johanna Clancy, a lecturer in management at the School of Business at NUIG.
“For a long time dad had the idea of bringing over groups of American students. But he didn’t know in what capacity, or what type of students, or what type of a package to put together.
“He had the idea initially, and with his knowledge of secondary school, and mine in higher level, we blended the minds as to what was needed right now and what was needed for the students for their college applications,” explained Dr Clancy.
They spent much of last summer doing the groundwork and market research in the States by visiting high schools, liaising with the Irish Consulate and connecting with an array of Irish American organisations stateside.
The pair piloted a programme this year, bringing eight students from New York, Michigan and Wisconsin, to Galway.
“I guess they just heard about us through word of mouth, through contacts we made over there in the Irish Consulate and through my two brothers, Brian and Peter, over there in St Pat’s Bar in New York,” she said.
The programme is primarily aimed at the Irish American diaspora. And there are plans to roll it out to students in schools across the US from New York to Boston, Baltimore, Chicago and Ohio.
“The structure of the programme is based around three core pillars,” said Dr Clancy.
“Number one is Irish culture and history. Number two is business and innovation and leadership, so I’m giving them classes in NUIG in business and innovation . . . then the third pillar is what they call over there ‘service learning’. It’s what we would call volunteer work.”
As part of the culture and history pillar, Páraic Breathnach of Galway Arts Centre, gave classes in Irish mythology and drama.
On a day trip to Dublin, the students visited all the historic highlights the capital has to offer, including the GPO and buildings of significance to 1916.
They also explored the Cliffs of Moher, Aran Islands and spent an afternoon in the Connemara Gaeltacht at a Coláiste Samhraidh.
As well as business classes in NUIG, while in Dublin they attended a lecture in Trinity College Dublin with Dr Paul Ryan.
Within the business stream, they visited Altocloud and Medtronic and toured Portershed, the innovation district in the city.
“Altocloud is Irish born. Its CEO is Barry O’Sullivan the dragon from Dragon’s Den and Medtronic is a massive US company in Galway, the biggest medical devices company in the world, who have their plant in Ballybrit,” said Dr Clancy.
The ‘service learning’ or volunteering section of the programme was vital, said Dr Clancy.
“We hadn’t realised it would be needed until we started talking to schools over there. High school students for their college applications, they need service learning. Their college applications are so competitive that what matters is not just your grades but also these types of experiences, and the type of volunteer work that you do.”
The group volunteered with Galway Simon during their stint here, and they climbed Diamond Hill, which was sponsored by Ulster Bank, arranged by Galway senior footballer Finian Hanley, with the monies raised going to Simon.
“We wanted them to be more globally aware. As you know a lot of Americans don’t even have passports. So we wanted them to understand global awareness and they are doing that through their volunteer work with Galway Simon. The whole thing is about giving back,” she said.
The activities during the two weeks were too plentiful to mention. They visited Galway Museum, drank soft drinks while listening to traditional Irish music in Taaffe’s Bar on Shop Street, and ate ice-creams from Supermac’s as they watched the giant Insects street spectacle as part of Galway International Arts Festival at Eyre Square.
As part of their volunteer work, the students did some soccer training and joined-up with the Corrib Rangers girls’ team, and were given some GAA coaching.
Also on the sporting front, Dr Clancy’s husband, Paul Clancy, a former All-Ireland winner with Galway and Moycullen, brought them to Pearse Stadium for the Connacht Final drawn game between Roscommon and Galway.
“They loved it. They couldn’t get over the atmosphere. The weather was absolutely rotten. They were like drowned rats, they were wrecked tired but they couldn’t get over the craic and the atmosphere at the match. One of the guys said to me – he’s only 16 or 17 and has travelled a lot – and he said: ‘I’m so happy I’ve come here. I can’t get over how friendly the people are and how nice it is to be here.’ They all really enjoyed their time here,” added Dr Clancy.
■ For more information about the academy, visit the website.