Tony O’Reilly’s Contribution To The Early Development of Glencree – An Appreciation


21/5/24: Following the death of Anthony J O’Reilly (AJ) at the age of 88, we reflect and acknowledge his great contribution to getting Glencree off the ground in the mid-1970’s and into the 1980’s, both through his own direct financial gifts and indirectly through the Ireland Funds.

There is a connection between the opening of the Glencree Centre in 1974 and the setting up of the Ireland Fund in Dunfey's Hotel in New York in 1976. Two Glencree leaders were among the Irish representatives at that inaugural meeting in New York and continued to support the development of the Fund. They were Una O'Higgins O'Malley and Judy Hayes. In return, Glencree Centre and the Corrymeela Community were one of the first to receive grants and moral support from the Fund, along with other pioneering community-based peace projects in every part of Ireland. The grant enabled the refurbishment of the Glencree Centre building with a new entrance and large hall for meetings.

Tony O'Reilly and Irish American Dan Rooney from Pittsburgh were the co-founders of the Ireland Fund. It was modelled on the highly successful Jewish funds that raised millions of dollars for Israel. AJ approached leading Irish Americans to attend an annual dinner and pledge a donation that eventually grew to the substantial sum at that time of $5,000 per table. Soon annual dinners were organised in many of the big cities like Chicago, Boston, San Francisco and Miami. AJ tried to attend all of these events, where he not only delivered his characteristic witty speech but also shared his understanding of Irish history.

As Ireland was a much poorer country at that time, many worthy charities, as well as many cultural development organisations, were in dire need of finance. In addition to providing much needed support, the Ireland Fund also had another objective: it competed with Noraid to attract Irish American financial support for peace rather than the financing of republican activities.

Judy Hayes was one of the first directors of the Fund in Ireland. Stateside, she organised many of the Funds annual dinners, while back in Ireland she built a network of influential contacts, who worked without any remuneration, to become the Advisory Committee. Looking back on that time, Judy is proud and grateful to have been part of AJ’s vision and to be given the leeway to support so many fledgling cross border, cross-community, inter-religious and integrated education projects. When you got a grant from the Ireland Fund, it was seen as an endorsement of the endeavour, which then stimulated the support of other funders.

Geoffrey Corry remembers going with Colin Murphy to meet AJ in his Dublin office in Hatch Street in 1987 to seek emergency financial help for Glencree. They had to wait some time for him to emerge from his meeting and to listen to their case for funding. Without hesitation, a vital cheque was written that enabled the organisation to keep afloat for some time and ultimately go on to harvest the new opportunities afforded by the republican and loyalist ceasefires.

Geoffrey Corry and Judy Hayes