History of Tír na nÓg
Division 1, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania
In July of 1984 two brothers, Jim and Joe Foley were looking to get more involved with the Project Children Program, a program designed to bring children from the North of Ireland to the states for a respite from the troubles back home. While attending the Irish Days Festival in Wilkes Barre, Pa, which benefits the program, they met John Bonner, a National Director of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America. The brothers expressed to John their interest in their Irish heritage as well as their desire to do more locally for the children of the North of Ireland. John explained the history and traditions of the AOH and suggested the brothers consider forming an AOH Division, back in the Lehigh Valley. On their way back to Bethlehem the brothers, armed with the information, decided to explore the possibilities of forming a new division.
In August of that same year they met Dick McGowan, owner of the Limeport Hotel, an Irish Pub and Restaurant located in Limeport, Pa. They discussed with Dick their idea for the new AOH Division and asked if he would be willing to host an information night to generate interest in the new organization. In November of that year National Director Bonner along with members of his AOH Division in Wilkes Barre, came to the Limeport Hotel for an organizational meeting. Attendance was good and interest was high so the decision was made to form Division 1 Lehigh County, PA.
On December 14, 1984 the first division officers were elected and installed by National Director Bonner and the Division was formally chartered with 21 founding members. The membership decided the focus of the division’s charitable work would focus on children’s charities and so the name Tir na n’Og, Gaelic for land of youth, was chosen for the new division.
The chartered officers are listed below:
Chaplin: Rev. Ronald Bowman
President: James M. Foley
Vice President: Roger J. Brock
Treasure: James J. Finegan
Recording Secretary: Joseph Mark Foley
Financial Secretary: Sean Duffy
Standing Committee: Dick McGowan
That first year proved to be a challenging one as Project Children was looking to place more kids in areas like the Lehigh Valley and so agreed to front the costs of our first two kids until we had an opportunity to raise the money. Over the next few months, through small fundraisers such as painting faces and selling balloons at Irish festivals along with raffles we raised the funds for our first two guests. In June of 1985, just 6 months after the founding of the division, 11 year old Helen Bingham and 12 year old Maggie Winters, both of Belfast, arrived at New York’s JFK Airport and the odyssey of Tir na n’Og and Project Children had begun. Since then the division as provided a summer away from the troubles in the North of Ireland for over 300 children.
In the fall of 1985 it was decided the division needed a major fundraising event to support the Project Children endeavor and so the 1st Annual Project Children Open was held at Locust Valley Golf Course, raising over $4,000.00 and allowing 6 kids to come to the Valley in 1986. Since then the Project Children Open has raised nearly $200,000.00 for the program.
In 1988 the division embarked on a new charitable endeavor, when invited to be a local sponsor for the Pamela Scully Foundation’s Walk Across America. The invitation, sent by Dr. John Scully to then Division President Jim Irwin, invited the division to support his efforts as he walked from San Diego CA to New York NY raising money and awareness for the educational needs of the under privileged and special needs children. The walk, in memory of Dr Scully’s late wife, was a Walk a Thon format where walkers would solicit sponsors for their participation in the walk. Half of the proceeds raised would go to the foundation and the other half would go to the sponsoring organization’s chosen charity. President Irwin proposed the sponsorship to the division membership, with our local proceeds benefiting Mercy Special learning Center. In May of 1988 Dr Scully arrived in the Lehigh Valley and the Lehigh Valley walk was held at Allentown’s Cedar Beach Park, among those joining in the walk was the Most Reverend Thomas Welsh then Bishop of Allentown. The walk ended with a picnic in the park, raising over $4,000.00. And so our long lasting relationship with Mercy Special Learning Center had begun.