This was an article which appeared in the Irish Echo in 1998
Denis Mulcahy’s home village of Rockchapel, Co. Cork is not a million miles from Blarney. He speaks with a flowing, north-Cork accented voice which reveals virtually no watering down in all his years in America. When things get hectic on the phone, Mulcahy speaks semi-automatic, like the nine millimeter in his NYPD issue holster. In some parts of Northern Ireland they wouldn’t have the first clue what he was saying. But in a great many parts, they certainly know what this man is about and what this man has done for thousands of their children.
“We bring them out, they go into American homes, but the host families give them direction. It’s incredible what has come as a result of getting people together. Not all of them are Irish or Irish American homes. Many of our sponsor families are from other ethnic backgrounds, Jewish, Italian, Polish.”
Mulcahy is talking about the many American families who have embraced Project Children, the organization which has plucked kids from the furnace of Northern Ireland and placed them, Protestant and Catholic, before the hearth in American homes ranging across more than one third of the 50 states.
Project Children was born in 1975, one of the worst years of the troubles. Like Irish people the world over, Denis Mulcahy dangled in a kind of limbo, hemmed in by feelings of anger, frustration, pity and helplessness.
“It seems so long ago now”says the 53 year old veteran cop. “My brothers Pat, now back in Ireland, and John decided we had to do something to help so we ended up bringing over six kids for a vacation to get away from the violence. It was a family thing. We did it in Greenwood Lake (New York). It was very bad in Northern Ireland at the time. There was lots of rioting and a few kids were actually being killed. Why did we do it: I suppose it was prompted by all the reports in the press. My wife Miriam O’Rourke’s family also come from close to the border, Ballinamore in County Leitrim, and they were hearing terrible stories at first hand.
“The budget that year was $1,600 and we initially raised $1,400. Money was tight at the time. Finally someone donated the last $200 and we were able to bring the kids over. Three of the kids stayed with me and my brothers and the other three stayed with other families.”
From the first six kids, seeds if you will, grew a rather large Project Children family tree now totaling 13,000 young souls.
“We’ve dropped back a bit since Aer Lingus did away with the (Boeing) 747s. The timing was actually good because we were starting to work separately with some of the older kids. We now bring about 640 over each year. We were doing 900 with the 747s-two plane loads”.
To the faint-hearted, the thought of being stuck on a trans-Atlantic flight with several hundred excited kids-never mind kids from a divided society- is not exactly the recipe for a good night’s sleep. But the children would often put many grown-up travelers to shame.
“We put chaperones on the flights so there are no problems. The kids really are very well behaved. At first there used to be problems with the meals. Some of them couldn’t deal with all the different bits of an airline meal. Now we give them burgers and fries and they’re very happy.”
In more recent times, Project Children has entered into a partnership arrangement with Habitat for Humanity, the Jimmy Carter inspired voluntary organization that builds homes for those with the dream but not quite the means of home ownership.
“With Habitat” says Mulcahy, “we’re getting funds from wider sources. Also kids are now coming from both sides of the border in Ireland. And it (Project Children) should indeed be cross community and cross border.
From the early days, when Project Children subsisted on a budget of hundreds, the financial demands have, of course, increased dramatically.
“We have an annual budget now of well over half-a-million dollars which goes mostly to air fares and insurance. There are no salaries”
Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children.
Your Correspondence Secretary President
Frank Darcy Ken Egan