In Memoriam

A tribute to former Director of Foróige
Michael B. Cleary, May he rest in peace.

Michael B. Cleary

Michael B. Cleary, former Director of Foróige, sadly passed away on Saturday 28th April 2012. Michael, who is widely recognised as being a pioneer of the youth work sector in Ireland, served at the helm of Foróige for 36 years (1967 - 2003).

A native of Cloughjordan, Co. Tipperary, Michael B. Cleary was awarded an honorary doctorate from NUI Maynooth in 2004 for his remarkable contribution to the youth of Ireland over a 36 year period. He is accredited as being the first person in Ireland to articulate youth work as being educational as opposed to it being solely recreational.

Michael's unshakable belief in these principles drove his directorship of Foróige and contributed significantly to making the organisation what it is today - Ireland's leading youth organisation, working with more than 56,000 young people every year.

May he rest in peace.

Seán Campbell

Chief Executive Officer, Foróige

Michael's legacy of a better Ireland for young people will live forever.

Gerry Mc Donald,

Foróige's Head of Training and Programmes,
pays a personal tribute to Michael Cleary

"I first met Michael Cleary when I was doing a diploma in Adult and Community Education in NUI Maynooth. He ran a course there called "Out of School Education". The title seemed contradictory so I was immediately interested. I signed up. The course itself was even more interesting than the title. There were no notes or lectures. Michael did not expound theories. He focused on you - your thoughts, your beliefs, your inner resources.

Our class was well used to cosily consuming information but he was having none of it. He challenged and confronted us. When he asked someone if they would like to do an exercise and the person said that "he didn't mind" Michael replied "I am not interested in working with someone who doesn't mind". This certainly ruffled feathers but I got it. It was not about course content, it was about you - your power and conviction and the responsibility that went with them. During one of his "experiential" group exercises I came alive. It was as if I had just woken up. I learned very little theory but a great deal about myself. I had discovered out of school education or non-formal education as it is called now. I haven't looked back since.

Michael was a great visionary when youth work needed vision. He believed in the capacity of each young person, regardless of academic ability or social class to develop themselves to the full and to make their unique contribution to society. He worked at making Foróige a place where young people could do this. These beliefs were his passion and his agenda for action. They were what drove his determination, tenacity and creativity.

Michael saw youth work as a unique brand of education. It was based in the community. It focused on the development of the whole person and their positive role in society. Before youth work was largely seen as recreational and "keeping young people off the streets". He fought with unshakeable conviction to have youth work recognised as part of our education system and he succeeded.

Michael's vision of education is central to what Foróige is today - young people directing the agenda themselves and organising their own action - young people taking charge of their own growth and development - collective action for the common more than individual achievement - every situation seen as a pathway to learning. Most important is the way Foróige involves adult volunteers from the local community as educators and part of the education system. Michael saw the volunteer as central to

Foróige and proved to be a superb mentor to volunteers especially the national chairpersons of Foróige that worked with him throughout his career.

So strong was Michael's commitment to "out of school education" that in the 1970s he involved world renowned professors of education such as Ralph W Tyler from The University of Chicago in running training programmes with Foróige staff on designing curricula for an out of school context. That was truly visionary. Using this training Foróige staff developed out of school education programmes such as Citizenship which is our strongest programme today.

Michael was like a force of nature: fierce and tough and at the same time very nourishing and life giving. His toughness contained a truth and clarity which if you accepted (and it was not easy) could help you grow as a person. He was not perfect as none of us are. We all had our rows and some of them were fiery and not for the faint hearted! But what I remember most was the deep passion and intensity and the great humour. We were like a family. We laughed together and we fought together but the commitment and loyalty was always intact, always strong and enduring.

While writing this tribute I became more and more aware of the influence Michael had on me which I often take for granted. He was a great trainer with the magnificent capacity to give a person space to work things out for themselves at a deep level. I learned so much from him which has influenced my thinking and training style. In our conversations I received profound wisdoms that are lodged in the depths of my soul to this day. I would leave with a richer perspective about what was important and essential. Michael had a deep grasp of youth development that went far beyond the intellectual and more into the spiritual.

I will remember Michael with gratitude, like remembering a strong wilful parent who would sometimes drive you mad, as indeed vice versa, but someone you can never forget; recalling those moments when he had a profound effect on you and realising that he was a great leader and the very person that could help you become great too."

Michael was a great visionary when youth work needed vision.