The first Experiment (EIL) Group arrived in Ireland in July 1964 and their itinerary included a visit to Dail Eireann (Irish Parliament) and a meeting with Jim Larkin, the son of the legendary Irish Trade Union Leader.Planning for the visit started at a meeting on March 18th of that year and the minutes of this meeting are the first record of any Experiment activity in Ireland. The minutes of this meeting also record a decision to apply for associate membership of the International Council of The Experiment and an agreement to send a representative to the offices of EIL UK to learn more about the working of the organisation. Interestingly among the small core group involved in getting the Experiment in Ireland off the ground in 1964 was Irish Novelist, playwright and short story writer Maeve Binchy.
Eddie Cassidy who worked for Aer Lingus emerged as the leading force in 1964 and he continued to be involved right up to the mid 1970s attending many international council meetings in different parts of the world. In 1971 an office was acquired in D’Olier Street in Dublin City Centre and the active team of volunteers set about growing the Experiment in Ireland with the help of a part time executive secretary. Unfortunately political events took over and “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland pushed Ireland to the top of the list of places not to visit during the 1970s. In May 1976 a decision was made to close the office in Dublin and to wind up activities. 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, mainly incoming.
The International Experiment moved quickly to seek a replacement for the suspended representation, and in 1975 Dr. Gordon Boyce, President of the U.S. Experiment, visited Ireland to investigate possibilities. During his visit he met with Carol Bergin (nee Burdin) who had led a number of Experiment Groups from America to Ireland in 1970, 1971, and 1972, and who had eventually married and settled in Ireland, where she and her husband Denis were operating an education and publishing consultancy.
The Bergins agreed to take on the representation of The Experiment in Ireland on a development basis, with Carol acting as National Director. Over the succeeding months, the Bergins attended international meetings in Brussels and Germany, and began the task of extending the programme activity to a level where it ranked among the top five in the ‘smaller country’ grouping. In 1978, the Irish Experiment operation hosted the annual international gathering of the organisation at Kilkea Castle, Co. Kildare.
In 1980, the initial arrangement with the Bergins was extended (by a further five years), following their move to a former school complex in rural north Kilkenny. Under the leadership of Carol Bergin and the part time administrative support of Margaret O’Hehir, a former host mother, who worked from her home in Bray in Co. Wicklow the organization was now well rooted in Ireland.
In the years that followed the organization joined the National Youth Council of Ireland, began to access European funding, together with Dr. Alvino Fantini pioneered intercultural training for Experiment staff based in Europe and opened new opportunities for young Irish people through the JI Visa / Au Pair programme to the USA.
During these years there was a high level of innovation in programming, with a full range of individual and group programmes, both inbound and outbound, and special programming for groups such as American lawyers and Libyan trainee pilots. Placements were also made, both inbound and outbound, for participants with disabilities.
Academic partnerships, which had initially been with University College Cork, were expanded to include collaboration with the Institute of Irish Studies in Wilton Place, Dublin; the Linguaviva Language School; and with other education interests, including a programme organised in conjunction with Kilkenny Vocational Education Committee and hosted by Castlecomer Vocational School. After the formation of the EIL International Federation, the Irish office was also involved in international activities, including the design and production of an international brochure, the hosting of a media seminar for international representatives and the planning of intercultural education initiatives across Europe.
A chance meeting at a UNESCO Conference in the Greek Island of Rodos in 1985 opened the door to the next chapter of the development of The Experiment in Ireland.
Carol Bergin who was representing the Experiment at the UNESCO meeting met with Kevin Hickey from Cork in Ireland. Kevin was participating in an OECD symposium on responses to youth unemployment that was taking place at the same time as the UNESCO event. In 1987 Carol enlisted Kevin Hickey and Paul Conway, who had taken part in an EIL homestay programme to Poland a few years previously, to help her re-organise and rebuild the Experiment in Ireland. By this time it was a requirement of Federation EIL membership that each national office were legally registered and had a properly functioning national committees. In September 1988 the Experiment 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.
At this time Carol Bergin decided to stand back from her leadership role in the Experiment and following extensive discussions and programme planning Kevin Hickey quit his previous position and on January 1st 1989 took on the role of full time National Director of The Experiment 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, the new National Director set about expanding the activities of the Experiment in Ireland.
In 1989 there was a combined total of 302 inbound and outbound participants on EIL Ireland programmes. By 1996 this had risen to 1,460 participants and it peaked at 2,311 participants in 2006. With the help of European Funding a series of ground breaking conflict resolution programmes linking 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 Programme of The European Commission.
The first EIL Travel Award (Scholarship) to Japan took place in 1994. Between 1994 and 2013 EIL Ireland has invested over $800,000 US in fully funded and partially funded travel awards for 654 programme participants, mainly young Irish people. Since 2003 EIL Ireland has been receiving an administrative grant each year from The Irish Ministry for Youth Affairs. A Global Education / Development Education Programme which focuses on returned participants and Alumni has received funding from Irish Aid since 2005.
EIL will celebrate 50 years in Ireland in 2014. The mortgage on the landmark building in Cork city, which is now home to EIL Ireland, will be fully paid in January 2014. The staff of 14 people based in Cork, is supplemented by a hugely active Alumni Network and a very energetic board almost totally made up of former Travel Award winners.
In July 1964, John McNichols led a group of American students to Ireland – this was the first EIL activity in Ireland and the start of our 50 year history here. The group began their experience with pre-departure training in Vermont and then travelled to Ireland where they learned about the culture and rich traditions of the country as part of their studies.
When these photos of the group in 1964 were posted on our Facebook page, they created quite a stir!
“The Experiment in International Living promises that participation in its programmes will change your life. But they don’t say how much. It certainly changed mine completely. In 1970, when I came to Ireland, few Irish people travelled abroad for their holidays, aside from visiting relatives. There was little interest in language training and practice. Most people did not have the money to travel beyond Britain. Back then, the EIL School for International Training in Vermont had the only accredited study abroad / academic programme to Ireland. It’s hard to imagine, given the number of American students in Ireland now, but we were a rarity then.” Carol Bergin.
In 1970, Carol Bergin led a group of students from the School for International Training, Vermont on a three-month College Semester Abroad (CSA) programme to Ireland, during which time she met her now-husband Denis, when he interviewed her and her group for a national newspaper. In this video, Carol speaks about the objective of the students’ time in Ireland and how integral the experience was to their studies. At the time, the idea of international students visiting Ireland was a major novelty and garnered considerable media interest. Over the next three years, Carol returned to Ireland a number of times with various delegations of American students before going on to become Director of EIL in Ireland until 1988.
Carol and her husband Denis were the guest speakers at the EIL Host Family Awards Ceremony held recently at Smock Alley Theatre. Homestays with EIL host families are central to our organisation’s ethos. In 1964 the very first EIL group to visit Ireland stayed with Irish host families in an effort to learn about and experience society, culture and traditions in Ireland at the time. Since then, over 1,500 Irish families have hosted EIL programme participants from as far afield as Japan, Brazil, Australia and the U.S.A. We recently celebrated the generosity, caring nature and dedication of some of these wonderful host families from all over Ireland that currently host our international students. Eleven host families were presented with awards for their exceptional contribution to the work of EIL over the years at the Awards Ceremony.
Eight years after the first group arrived, the number of students choosing Ireland as a destination for their ‘Study Abroad’ period continues to grow. This video was recorded in 1972 and follows an EIL group that spent a semester in Ireland as part of their studies in their respective colleges in the USA.