John & Una Mc Daid pictured with their children Brian, twins Joe & Jack and Cassie



For first and second-generation Irish people living in America, educating their children in Ireland may seem like a distant dream, but one Donegal family is working hard to ensure it becomes a more accessible option for diaspora families like theirs. Donegal native John McDaid (Letterkenny) and his wife Una, (Raphoe) live in Havertown, just outside Philadelphia with their four children, Brian, twin boys Joe and Jack, and daughter Cassie. John and Una’s eldest son Brian is currently completing the first of a four-year Business Degree in Dublin City University (DCU). We caught up with John to find out more:


Why did your son decide to pursue his third level education in Ireland?

There were a few reasons behind his decision; firstly, the fact that he has spent so much of his childhood in Donegal with our extended family, so Ireland is a home away from home for him. He was recruited to play soccer at Shipley, a local Private High School and had his mind set on attending a Division One College here; however, having reached out to other students he became aware of some issues that concerned him. One pitfall he discovered is that a lot of the soccer scholarships are awarded to athletes from Europe who have gone through the academy system in well-known clubs in the Premiership and European leagues, like Manchester United, Dortmund FC and other pedigree teams. After talking it over, he was concerned that the constant influx of new players would make securing a regular position on the team difficult and he felt this could create an element of frustration for him. More than anything, Brian wanted to play in games, rather than be sitting watching them! He loves playing soccer and Gaelic, and by studying in Ireland, he could enjoy year-round access to sport – playing his favourite games – so that was a big factor in his decision. And then there was the academic side, and the job opportunities that Ireland – as a European hub for so many tech giants – provided. So, after weighing it all up, we began looking at how he could further his college education in Ireland.


What inspired you?

In 2017, a cross-border trade delegation from Donegal and Strabane County Council traveled to Boston and Philadelphia to promote the northwest region. The delegation gave a presentation promoting LYIT and the education options available there; I was in attendance at this event and the seed was planted. We began to explore higher education options in Ireland; we approached universities and colleges including LYIT, Maynooth and DCU. After a lot of thought, Brian decided that DCU was the best fit for him; the course offered a wonderful opportunity and allowed him to explore his options in Ireland as the EU hub for so many American based companies. As a dual Irish American citizen, he had the best of both worlds.


What are the benefits of studying in Ireland?

For us as a family, it gives us great comfort knowing that Brian is forging his own relationship with Ireland, making his way in the world there. The nature of emigration has changed so much; Irish people are no longer able to come over to America the same way that Una and I did, thanks to the Morrison visa. Educating our son in Ireland is a great way for our family to forge new connections with home; and for Brian to make his own connections with Ireland beyond Donegal. There’s also the less romantic – but equally important – issue of finance! The cost of some one-year college courses in the USA can vary between $30,000 - $70,000 and Irish universities offer much more affordable tuition. That said, even though Brian has an Irish passport and is an EU citizen he is not considered an EU resident, thus he’s not eligible for any grants, but this is something we are actively working to try to change through the Irish Diaspora Center in Philadelphia.


Is the process straightforward for families?


Honestly, it wasn’t always straightforward for us, but the good news is that having identified the issues, we are now in a position to help other families avoid the stumbling blocks we encountered. For instance, we had to start the process of applying for a student loan and we came across a few stumbling blocks, mostly bureaucratic in nature. It is difficult to open a bank account in Ireland, which makes it very hard to function. A PPS number is required to do almost anything official in Ireland, but to get this, Brian had to establish proof of address, so he needed a bill in his name, but to have this he needed a bank account, so we were going around in circles for a while! But then, we met Paul Brolly from Lifford Credit Union who set us up with a student loan option; as it turned out, we didn’t need to avail of the loan as Brian had received approval from the  formal US FASFA process, but the help from Lifford Credit Union at that time was invaluable and offered us a bit of assurance when we needed it most!

And you’ve done all this in the middle of a pandemic?


Yes, we McDaid’s don’t half love a challenge! Brian and I made the trip in August and then quarantined together for two weeks, which turned out to be a brilliant fourteen days in the Donegal sunshine! As soon as the quarantine period was over, Brian began doing what he loves most – playing football; gaelic and soccer! He started training with Termon GAA club and played in the Donegal Northern GAA Football Minor Championship; the team made it all the way to the final before a narrow loss to Gweedore. The start of the first term of college was delayed because of the Leaving Certificate timelines, so Brian found himself having an unexpected extended college break, but he filled the time training and playing soccer for another local team, Letterkenny Rovers. And all the while, he was living with my parents – his grandparents – in Letterkenny, which made the transition much easier for him, not to mention Una and me!


And then he made the move to Dublin?


Yes, we had been liaising with DCU to arrange accommodation, orientation, and general logistics but because of Covid restrictions and the pandemic, classes had moved to a mostly online format. The plan was that Brian would stay with his aunt Margaret in Skerries and make the trip to DCU two days a week and take online classes three days; but with Covid, his classes were all online, and with the pandemic restrictions, he was unable to experience student life in the city. After lockdown intensified in Ireland he made the decision to move back to Philadelphia and log on to DCU classes from here. There is no question that Covid has put a damper on things, but that is the situation facing college students all over the world, and to his credit, Brian is taking it in his stride. He plans to return to Dublin for the end of his second term and is looking for work experience there to complement his course. He still has another three years in Dublin, which hopefully won’t be too disrupted by Covid!


Would you recommend this route to other parents?


I would. While we’ve faced our fair share of issues – most of which relate to a global pandemic! – I can’t get over how helpful each of the Irish third level institutions have been on our journey to explore this option – from LYIT, to University of Limerick, Maynooth and DCU, they couldn’t have been more accommodating. I believe we are only at the beginning of this process and I really think we can establish a cultural and educational exchange programme that will benefit our children, while helping to forge the experiences and relationships upon which the next phase of the Irish diaspora will be built. From our own community and through the Irish Diaspora Center, we are aware of one student at LYIT, one at UL and a few more that have gone to UCD this year. We have been in contact to learn from other US families that have taken this option before us, including my cousin’s son, Eoghan Casey who is in his second year at LYIT. Our goal is to secure the EU tuition rate for all our Irish Diaspora and retain the strong exchange links between Ireland and the USA.