27 July 2023. Twenty-five years ago, the US-Ireland Alliance and the George J. Mitchell Scholarship program were created following the historic achievement of the Good Friday Agreement which brought peace to Northern Ireland. The program introduces future American leaders to the island of Ireland. There are now nearly 280 Mitchell Scholars and many of them returned to Dublin this week for a reunion.
Trina Vargo, founder of the Alliance and of the scholarship program, welcomed 200 guests to the EPIC, Dublin’s Irish Emigration Museum, for a reception in honor of the Scholars and their families.
Each year, the program sends an average of 12 Scholars to the island of Ireland for a year of post-graduate study. More than 300 people apply annually for what has become one of the most prestigious scholarships in the US.
Mitchell Scholars in attendance talked about the importance of the opportunity in their lives. Cassie Farrelly, Class of 2003, spoke of the “power and impact of this program” thanks to the community of scholars she joined, and the ongoing partnerships with Irish organizations it yielded. Farrelly, who did an MPhil in Irish Theater and Film at Trinity College Dublin, served on board of the Origin Theater company in New York City, a performance company focused on producing work by contemporary Irish playwrights and collaborating with Irish theater companies. For nearly a decade she worked for the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, where she partnered with the Northern Ireland Bureau on various initiatives. She is currently working to support development of Susan Ryan’s Dublin-based novel, The King of Lavender Square, for possible television adaptation.
Sasha Seymore, Class of 2016, studied Conflict Transformation and Social Justice at Queen’s University Belfast. Seymore spoke of the “unique opportunity” he had “to learn about conflict in the classroom while also spending time with people who had lived through it themselves.” He spoke of “the radical hospitality” of the people of Belfast. Seymore is the founder of Learn to Win, a technology company and builds training software for companies ranging from professional athletic teams, to F500 companies like Novartis and AbbVie, to the US Department of Defense. He said that he wouldn’t have been able to build his company to where it is today without the help of the Mitchell Scholarship community.
Matt Cortland, Class of 2015, studied Digital Media at the Dublin Institute of Technology (now the Technological University Dublin). He credited his Mitchell year, and his work experience in Dublin, as the place where he began to learn “some of the foundational skills and experiences that have formed the basis of my company and my ability to lead it as CEO.” Cortland is the founder of The Cauldron pubs with locations in London, New York City, Philadelphia, Edinburgh, Brighton, and Chicago. He operated a pop-up pub in Dublin to validate the market, where he employed over 50 people, and he said he hopes to come back to Dublin soon with another pub. He noted that, “the Mitchell provides the foundation for an understanding of Ireland in a way that then makes it possible to then re-invest back into the economy.”
Vargo, who has written about the pressing issue of securing an endowment for the program, spoke of how the Scholars are making their marks and are great ambassadors for the island. Supporters of the event included Ireland’s Department of Further and Higher Education, Hackman Capital, Strong Roots, IBEC, and Alison. Vargo also thanked the families of the late Michael Corrigan (Malibu, CA) and Richard O’Sullivan (Dublin), long-time supporters and friends of the program. Among the Mitchell Scholars in attendance were alumni committee members Carie Windham Page, Christopher Kilner, Amanda Wetzel, Mark Tosso and Seena Perumal Carrington. Many representatives of the universities in Ireland and Northern Ireland were on hand, including David Fitzpatrick, the President of Technological University Dublin, and Orla Feeney, the new president of University College Dublin. US-Ireland Alliance board members Sean O’Sullivan, Kesav Mohan, and Joe O’Malley were present, as were former Irish Ambassadors Rory Montgomery and Brendan Scannell. Martin Mansergh and Liz O’Donnell, both important figures in the Northern Ireland peace process, as were Caroline Keeling, Oliver Fegan, Ciara Heslin, Mervyn Greene, and Denis MacCarthy. Artists enjoying the evening included Amanda Adewole, Creative Director of Black and Irish; Kurtis Wade, lead singer of VNXI; actors and writers Tara Flynn, Carl Austin, and Julia Kelly; producers Steve McCormack and Catherine Tiernan. And the family of Paul Hayes and Mary Calpin, who annually host Thanksgiving dinner for the Scholars, got to catch up with the many they’ve come to know over the years.
Bakehouse Dublin provided the food and Five Farms Irish Cream, Wilde Irish Gin, and Writers Tears also contributed to the evening.