The idea for developing an Institute for Irish Studies in the American West has been the subject of discussion in academic circles for some time. However, it was not until the idea was initially developed by the Consul General of Ireland shortly after his arrival in San Francisco in late 2001 that the concept of an "e-institute" gained momentum.
It was officially proposed as an option at the Western Regional Meeting of the American Conference for Irish Studies in 2003 at Boise State University in Idaho. After that meeting there was a great deal of collective enthusiasm to develop this approach. CG Dónal Denham arranged for and hosted a series of preliminary brainstorming sessions among interested scholars, students, and business people.
The concept of a "virtual" or "on-line" institute was, in part, a response to the need for an institute that could serve a geographically dispersed western region. Everyone at that early meeting in Idaho agreed that a "typical" Institute would ultimately end up serving one place, such as San Francisco or Denver, very well but would be unable to support the wide range of scholars and students working across the West.
The idea of a virtual institute was inspiring because it promised to do something entirely different from what traditional bricks-and-mortar institutes provide: It promised to be a truly innovative, 21st Century solution. It would also provide a location at long last for Irish Studies of the West, a long-neglected part of the Irish American tradition.
As a first step, CG Denham teamed up with Dr. Matthew Jockers of Stanford University to develop a proposal that outlined the goals and objectives of the Institute. This proposal was eventually circulated among a few potential funders, one of whom was the Cultural Division of the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Government of Ireland. The Department of Foreign Affairs contributed the first grant which helped the Institute establish its web presence and secure its incorporation and status as a non-profit 501(c)(3) entity. This seed money provided a valuable jump-start for the Institute and within six months of receiving the funds, the Institute had made great progress toward realizing it's first-year goals.
At the point of incorporation, it became clear that an official Board of Directors would need to be established. Denham and Jockers developed a set of By-Laws for the Institute and then brought together a core group of interested scholars and business people to serve as the founding Board of Directors. The Initial group included Consul General Denham as Chair along with Jockers, Tom Jordan, Tom Fitzgerald, Vice Consul Una Fallon, Helen Lojek of Boise State University and Susanna Bogue.