About the Foundation
Mary’s Gift Irish Language Foundation is a US-based charitable endowment fund created to provide financial support to Irish-immersion schools in the north of Ireland. Similar conceptually to a college endowment, Mary’s Gift distributes donations to preschool, primary and post-primary schools where all subjects are taught through the medium of the Irish language. Mary’s Gift is a private and independent, ‘501(c)(3)’ public charity, unaffiliated with any other organization, school, government, or religion. Mary’s Gift is managed exclusively by volunteers; all donations are used solely to support recipient schools or pay Foundation expenses.
“Irish,” a branch of the Gaelic family of languages, is one of Ireland’s national treasures. Irish is the original language of the island of Ireland, and one of the oldest living languages in Europe. For centuries during Ireland’s colonial past, the use of Irish was prohibited and often violently suppressed. By the mid-1800s, the language appeared to be at the point of extinction, but a vigorous restoration movement begun at that time staved off its demise.
Restoration of Irish as a living, modern language has gained tremendous momentum during the past fifty years. In 1971, a small, pioneering community of Irish speakers in Belfast, without government funding and independent of both the educational and church authorities, founded the first Irish-medium school: Bunscoil Phobal Feirste (pictured holding the original sign for the school are pupils Orla and Séamus, grandchildren of its founder Séamus Mac Seáin). From that valiant beginning, the educational opportunities have grown to include over 40 nursery schools (naíscoileanna), over 30 primary schools (bunscoileanna), and two secondary schools (gaelcholáiste): Coláiste Feirste in West Belfast and Gaelcholáiste Dhoire in Dungiven Castle, County Derry. Currently, instruction in Irish is one of the fastest growing fields of education in Ireland.
Despite recent progress in garnering support from the government, Irish-medium schools in the north of Ireland are in particular need of support. The children who desire to learn Irish there are among those who will benefit the most from Irish-immersion education, including a re-connection with their ancient nation, the forging of cultural kinship and a shared heritage, and the extraordinary advantages of growing up bilingual. Not surprisingly, the demand for Irish language education is steadily growing, with ever-increasing numbers of communities seeking this opportunity for their children and for their future.
Mary’s Gift is named in honor of Mary Clifford, grandmother of founder and Chair, Michael Breen. Mary immigrated to New York City from a humble farm in County Roscommon, Ireland, in 1929. She conveyed a great gift to her grandson and, indeed, all of her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren: an enduring pride in their Irish heritage and a love for the Irish people.
Mary’s gift to her family is shared in the present day through the work of Mary’s Gift Irish Language Foundation, which enriches the lives of the children of Ireland by enhancing their opportunities and experience with the Irish language. Although Mary’s Gift is not in any way affiliated with any religious group, the name “Mary’s Gift” also reflects the Christian faith which is important to a great many of the recipients and donors to the Foundation.
To read more about Mary in Irish America magazine, click here.