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20 Years of Aisling Awards


West Belfast MP Paul Maskey at the Aisling Bursaries


The Aisling Bursaries are one of the highlights of my year
West Belfast MP Paul Maskey


“One of my favourite events of the year in West Belfast is the Aisling Bursary Awards. 

This year is a different year and whilst the Awards Ceremony could not take place as usual in St Mary’s University College, I am delighted that fifty recipients received an Aisling Bursary. Over the last twenty years 856 Bursaries have been awarded to young people (and to the not so young) and an incredible £691,000 has been raised.

I am very proud to be from West Belfast and this year we celebrate students who are studying at courses ranging from childcare to plumbing, nursing to technical theatre, up to Masters level in engineering and architecture.

Twenty years of the Aisling Bursaries would not have been possible without the sponsors. I want to say a massive thank you to all the sponsors who have contributed for the last twenty years.

The Aisling Bursary Initiative highlights the importance the local business and social enterprise community attaches to education. It’s not only an incredible gesture of generosity and sharing from the local people, but it is also a vote of confidence in the recipients of the Bursaries and a real investment in this community.

West Belfast Partnership Board are one of the most progressive community organisations across this city and they have proven that over the past twenty years with the Aisling Bursaries. To me the leadership that the West Belfast Partnership has shown over the past twenty years has been immense.

Congratulations to all the recipients this year and I wish you all the best in your studies.

The Aisling Bursaries are a good news story. Indeed, one of the best for West Belfast and I look forward to the next 20 years.

Comhghairdeas agus ádh mór oraibh go leor.


20 years a-givin': The West Belfast Bursaries which have given a financial leg up to over 800 students



COMHGHAIRDEAS: Actor and director Tony Devlin of bursary sponsor Brassneck joins his twins Róise
and Éirinn and Geraldine McAteer, CEO West Belfast Partnership to celebrate twenty years of Aisling Bursaries


Twenty years of the Aisling Bursaries: Unique and inspirational
Geraldine McAteer, Chief Executive, West Belfast Partnership Board


Geraldine McAteer, Chief Executive, West Belfast Partnership Board


“It has been an absolute pleasure and a privilege to have been part of organising the Aisling Bursaries for the past twenty years. The Aisling Bursaries in west Belfast are both inspirational and unique. I can think of no other district or city, where businesses and families give so generously year after year, to support local people — the young and the not so young — to further their education and training in pursuit of a good career, a fulfilling life and supporting their families. 

This year our wonderful sponsors have donated £26,000, which has enabled fifty students to receive a Bursary. As we celebrate twenty years, I am delighted and very proud that during that time our sponsors have donated £691,000 to help 856 students. The Aisling Bursaries could not happen without your continued support and for that I thank you. It is so marvellous to see people giving back to the west Belfast community.

A driving force in the Aisling Bursaries are two great Belfast women — Eilish Rooney and Monica Culbert — who for years have volunteered to the Aisling Bursary application process. Their task is a difficult one, especially so this year, and we thank them for their invaluable contribution.

Thanks must also go to the staff of West Belfast Partnership who put their shoulder to the wheel to ensure the Bursaries are a big success and to our Chairperson, Jim Donnelly for his support for this year’s Aisling Bursaries. We also can’t forget our former Chair Gerry McConville, who hosted the Aisling Bursary Awards for fourteen years.

Lastly, we hope all the recipients of this year’s Aisling Bursaries have a fantastic time at the University, Training College or course that you are attending. Good luck for the future!”


Aisling: Twenty years a-growing
Jim Donnelly, Chair, West Belfast Partnership Board


Aisling: Twenty years a-growing - Jim Donnelly, Chair, West Belfast Partnership Board


“As we celebrate twenty years of the Aisling Bursaries, fifty recipients have been awarded an Aisling Bursary. We would like to congratulate each and every one of you and we are very proud to be able to help you with your chosen path of study.

I would like to thank our sponsors who make an annual commitment to the Aisling Bursaries. As always, we very much appreciate your continued support and recognise the value that you put on education and the regeneration of West Belfast through your contributions each year.

Every year our sponsors give £1,000 or £500 back to the community in the form of an Aisling Bursary. This quite simply enables people from the west of the city, to begin or continue to study, to fulfil their life ambitions for work and a career.

West Belfast Partnership is a partnership between community, statutory agencies, elected representatives and the business sector, who are committed to working collaboratively to contribute to real positive change in the west of the city.

We believe in helping people to gain the skills and competencies that a modern economy needs and which are an essential pre-cursor to our own local economic and social regeneration. This is what is at the core of the Aisling Bursaries.

We are delighted that in our 20th year, £26,000 has been raised and since the Aislings began in 2000, a total of £691,000 has been donated to the Aisling Bursaries, providing assistance to 856 students.

This year an incredible effort has been made by the staff of West Belfast Partnership Board. Thank you on behalf of the Board for your hard work and diligence.

Thanks also to independent judges Eilish Rooney and Monica Culbert for their hard work over the last twenty years in reading and assessing every application."

Finally, congratulations once again to our recipients and the very best of luck for the future”.


A great vision for West Belfast
Gerry Adams


Gerry Adams talking at the Aisling Bursary Awards


“It’s really hard to believe that this is the 20th year of the Aisling Bursaries. I want to commend those who had the great vision to put this initiative in place two decades ago.

Ba mhaith liom tréaslú ach go háirtithe leo siúd a bhain sparántachtaí amach i mbliana. Comhghairdeas is gach rath oraibh - is aoibhinn beatha an scoláire.

I commend those who have contributed to the bursaries, who have provided students with a stipend. It is a great thing to help others with financial aid to start, continue or return to education. Those who began the Bursaries were visionaries. Aisling is a vision and to have the commitment to keep that vision going for two decades speaks wonderfully well of the people of West Belfast and of those who made the donations year in year out.

Well done to those who have received a Bursary and went on to greater things but who have returned here to this community to enrich, to enliven, to inform, to strengthen and to empower the people of West Belfast. Here’s to the next twenty years.”


Education means everything
Angie Mervyn, Education Programme Manager


WBPB visit to Áras an Uachtaráin


“In the West Belfast Partnership Board we believe that education is at the heart of economic and social regeneration, and the perfect example of that is our annual Aisling Bursaries.

We have huge social capital and great community pride here in West Belfast and we are really delighted and truly very proud that our Bursaries have been running for twenty years.

West Belfast is a font of innovation and excellence, which is recognised by those sponsors who continue to support the Aisling Bursaries year-on-year. Over the last two decades, we have had over sixty local and city-wide businesses, families and community organisations donate.

What I really love about the Aisling Bursaries is that they make such a difference to the lives of ordinary people in West Belfast and how everyone who receives a Bursary is given the opportunity to carry on with their education and life-long learning journey and to defray the cost of education.

We have fantastic talent here in West Belfast and we are always very proud when the recipients put in their applications with the courses that they want to study.

Over the years there have been a range of courses from Childcare to Criminology to Acting and the Arts — a plethora of challenging courses from vocational to Masters Level.

Every year when the Aisling Bursaries are awarded, they give our community great hope – they are about investing in our fantastic community and helping recipients to seize the opportunity to study.

Congratulations to all our recipients over the last twenty years, many of whom are now sponsors, and to the recipients of 2020 we wish you all the very best.”


Empowering students from West Belfast
Máirtín Ó Muilleoir


West Belfast Partnership Board - Aisling Bursary Awards September 2014 video


“The Aisling Bursary Programme is a community and private sector partnership initiative that empowers students from West Belfast to access further and higher education and training.

The Programme was established by the Belfast Media Group and the West Belfast Partnership Board in 2000 to ensure that students from working class communities — the Shankill and the Falls combined —  would be assisted to take up the opportunity of education or training, which would enable them to develop a good career.

Through the Aisling Bursaries Initiative, organisations, families and businesses – mainly local - make financial donations to a central fund which is held by West Belfast Partnership Board.

Belfast Media Group advertises the Aisling Bursaries to prospective students and spotlights businesses which donate.

When the Belfast Media Group and the Partnership Board began the Aisling Bursaries twenty years ago, we did so to help to defray the costs of third level education to students from West Belfast by awarding students bursaries of either £1,000 or £500 from funds donated by sponsors.

In addition, since the Aisling Bursaries are aimed to help those who face multiple obstacles to financially accessing further and higher education and training, the Initiative is also valued in terms of equity and equality.

The Aisling Bursaries are the way up, the way forward and the way out.

The way up because Education is the most valuable, most precious thing you can ever have and no one can take it from you.

The way out: the way out of poverty and marginalisation because a great education gives you the ability to contribute to this community, to make this community better and to rise with your community.

Post-Covid when we can gather ourselves again, wouldn’t it be a great exercise to contact the hundreds who have benefitted from the bursaries to find out how our recipients have been getting on. I suspect the results would give us great cause for optimism.”


St Mary’s University - proud to be associated with the Aisling Bursaries
Professor Peter Finn KSG, Principal, St Mary’s University College


Professor Peter Finn KSG, Principal, St Mary’s University College


“St Mary’s has been associated with the Aisling Bursaries for twenty years and it is our intention to continue the partnership long into the future.  From our perspective, we see the benefit of the Aisling Bursaries broadly in two areas. Firstly, the benefit that accrues to the individual, the recipient who receives an Aisling Bursary and secondly to the wider community. 

In the case of each individual who receives an Aisling Bursary, it affirms their talent, their skill and their ability. Each recipient is being acknowledged as successful but more importantly he or she is being recognised for their potential in the future.  That is a very good thing and any educationalist will tell you so.

The second element is of course financial and great credit goes to those in the community who sponsor the awards and have been doing so for so many years.  The cumulative impact of the awards is enormous for West Belfast.

The experience of Further or Higher Education as a student is expensive and the Aisling Bursaries give those who receive them a degree of independence which will allow them to make important choices. When you put those elements together what you’re doing in fact is enabling young people to have a better chance of success in their lives.

The institutional context for our involvement with the Aisling Bursaries is the fact that the mission of St Mary’s University College envisages us playing a role in the regeneration and development of West Belfast.  As St Mary’s is a small institution of around 1000 students, it has a very particular mission and in the wider world of higher education I believe that St Mary’s has to do something very special to be relevant.

Whether it is the joint work with West Belfast Partnership Board through the Easter School and Transition School, or our collaboration with Féile an Phobail, it is evident that St Mary’s is making a significant contribution to the ongoing development of the greater West Belfast area.

We are absolutely delighted to be connected with the Aisling Bursaries. The awards ceremony is normally held on the St Mary’s campus each year in the month of September.

We will continue to lend our support in every possible way to this outstanding initiative, which provides concrete support to young people in our community.”


Pride from the Presidents of Ireland


West Belfast Partnership Board visit to meet President Higgins


To mark the 15th anniversary of the Aisling Bursaries, President Michael D. Higgins invited West Belfast Partnership Board to bring a group of Aisling Bursary sponsors and recipients to meet with him at Áras an Uachtaráin.

Speaking at the event President Higgins said:

“A dhaoine uaisle,
Tá áthas orm fáilte a fhearadh romhaibh chuig Áras an Uachtaráin tráthnóna agus sibh ag ceiliúradh cúig bliana déag ar an bhfód.

It is with great pleasure that I welcome you all to Áras an Uachtaráin.

May I thank each and every one of you for your commitment to the success of this education bursaries scheme. Indeed these bursaries exist because of the generosity of so many businesses and individuals – a generosity which is rooted in people’s care for their community.

The Aisling Bursary Programme is based on the recognition of the importance of education in enabling young people to reach their potential.

But the value of the Aisling bursaries also lies beyond their significance in financial terms: in acknowledging talent and effort, in supporting young people’s will to pursue higher education, the bursaries give both encouragement and a sense of self-worth to those who receive them. Indeed, all of us are best able to reach our potential when we are given heartfelt and sustained encouragement.

I wish this year’s recipients well in their studies and in the life’s journey that lies ahead of them.

I have no doubt that all of the young people who are here with us this afternoon will be active citizens who are willing to shape a society that is creative, inclusive and constantly open to new possibilities.”


FLASHBACK: President Mary McAleese’s remarks to the 10th annual Aisling Bursaries Presentation


President Mary McAleese’s remarks to the 10th annual Aisling Bursaries Presentation


“Despite the colder economic climate, the generosity of businesses and individuals continues to make the Aisling Bursary awards possible and is all the more worthy of praise. At its very simplest these bursaries are here because that generosity has sustained.

People care about their community, they want it to be strong and achieving and because they know if you want a strong community you have to invest in the individual - the basic building block of families, of workplaces and of societies.

Every society needs individuals who are problem-solvers, not problems, men and women who invest in their own talents and work hard to bring out their own potential, so that they can be the best they can possibly be. It is no secret that education is one of the most important keys to unlocking, harvesting and harnessing that potential.

The monetary value of the bursaries is not excessive - £500 or £1,000 - but the truest value of the Aisling bursaries lies beyond pounds and pence, in the acknowledgement of talent, of effort, in the support and encouragement it gives to the individual and in the faith it places in him or her.  To be thought worthy of the practical help of strangers, to have them help you invest in your own life is a source of real energy and momentum. The Irish language tells us, mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí - praise the young and they will blossom. It is true of all of us at all ages — we stretch to our utmost best when we are given heartfelt and sustained encouragement.

Tonight’s proud winners of Aisling Bursaries are our hope for the future. We wish them well in their studies and life’s journey that lies ahead. No two will have the same story to tell for no two are the same and thanks to these bursaries I hope each one believes utterly in his or her own value, own worth, own dignity and in the power that resides within them to make their lives count for something good, maybe even great in this needy world of ours.”