By Melissa Quinn
For Irishman-turned-Alexandrian Tony Culley-Foster, a 25-year-old dream has finally become reality.
For a quarter-century, the native Irishman hoped to bridge the vast expanse of ocean between the United States and Ireland through broadcast media, and with the help of MHz Networks and the company’s CEO Frederick Thomas, an all-Ireland channel has finally emerged.
Called Today’s IRELAND, the channel launched throughout the metropolitan region on St. Patrick’s Day, bringing programming from the Emerald Isle into America’s living rooms.
“It’s something I believe will be a very significant addition to the international programming that’s coming into the United States,” Culley-Foster said, who serves as the UK and Ireland representative for MHz Networks. “People who normally would be competitors … are collectively working together toward the common goal of promoting more international understanding of a modern, contemporary, 21st-century Ireland.”
The channel has the potential to reach 38 million households across the United States and joins MHz’s 12 international channels, which include Al Jazeera and Russia Today.
And Culley-Foster’s initiative marks the first time an all-Ireland channel has launched — after three failed attempts by other networks.
“This has taken some time to put together,” Thomas said in a statement, “but the time spent finding the right mix of content, representing the whole of Ireland, was well worth it. The mix of public and private channel content provides a fascinating mosaic of the people and perspectives of this modern, yet still bucolic, country that has deep ties to the U.S.”
Today’s IRELAND not only links the American diaspora with Ireland, but also symbolizes a vital partnership between the northern and southern parts of the country.
The two regions had been embroiled in a 37-year conflict until the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. The deal saw the Republic of Ireland drop its territorial claim to the northern region — allowing the United Kingdom to declare rights to the land.
“It’s an astonishing amalgam of television and film companies in Ireland, north and south,” Culley-Foster said. “To get Ireland — north and south, Protestants and Catholics — to work together toward the common goal of promoting [the island] through television … is unprecedented.”
MHz’s channel broadcasts news, entertainment and sports — among other genres — from a variety of companies throughout Ireland. And while the goal of the channel is to expose Americans to Irish culture, Culley-Foster believes Today’s IRELAND will strengthen the bonds between more than 34 million Irish-Americans and their ancestors.
“People want to know who they are, where they’ve come from, how they got there,” Culley-Foster said. “And in terms of ethnicity, this is the melting pot. The Irish and the Scots-Irish have played such a profound role in the shaping of what is America. It’s so powerful.”
Viewers can catch five hours of daily programming, though Culley-Foster and Thomas hope to expand to 24 hours of continuous content within the channel’s first two years. And the duo has no qualms about setting their sights on reaching more than 1 million viewers by summer.
“[Today’s IRELAND] is giving people unedited, unfiltered, global information so they can make up their own minds about the world and the people in it,” Culley-Foster said. “This is a powerful medium — television — to shape people’s perceptions, to motivate them, to inspire them, to engage them.”
Culley-Foster’s foray into Today’s IRELAND officially began 15 months ago after he forged the partnership with MHz Networks and Thomas. He’s since garnered support from a wide array of political figures — from Enda Kenny, Ireland’s Taoiseach, or prime minister, to Michael Collins, Ireland’s ambassador to the United States.
“The launch of Today’s IRELAND feels a little like the greening of American television, and I’m very happy to play a part in that,” said Kenny in his address to viewers. “As you know, Ireland and the United States share a very special relationship, and there is a strong spiritual connection between our peoples.”
Though the channel is still in its beginning phases, Culley-Foster remains steadfast in his belief that it’ll be successful at bringing Ireland across the Atlantic to the United States.
After all, he said, everybody loves the Irish.