US high-school students of Irish descent will have an opportunity to visit Ireland to learn about the country’s history and

Details of a new government initiative to strengthen diaspora links reveal that U.S. teenagers of Irish descent will have the opportunity to experience modern and historic Ireland this summer.

The Irish Examiner reports that around 20 high-school students, aged 15 to 17, will be invited to spend two or three weeks visiting Dublin and rural Ireland and learning about the country’s history and culture through a mix of courses and excursions.

Participants may get a chance to visit Leinster House and meet with a government minister. Meetings with prominent multinational companies may also be used to expose the students to modern Ireland.

Children or other descendants of Irish emigrants are eligible to apply to the program through the Irish Embassy in Washington or the network of consulates in the U.S.

Participants will have to cover travel costs, but the program will cover accommodation, trips, food, transport, and classes.

The initiative has been designed for young people who have never visited Ireland and aims to encourage greater connectivity.

The commitment to develop a pilot scheme was included in the Irish government’s diaspora policy, Global Irish, launched last March.

If the program is a success, the visits might be extended to children of Irish descent in other countries in 2017.

The initiative is badly needed with the lack of legal immigration from Ireland to the U.S. and no end in sight as immigration has become such a loaded topic.

We would hope that the numbers would surpass 20 a year in future years as the program needs far more students than that to inspire a sea change in attitudes and a closer relationship with future generations.

However, as a pilot year, getting the structure right for the incoming students is even more important.

A love of things Irish is passed along in many ways, sometimes by grandparents and parents, or inspired by movies or current cultural icons such as U2 and Liam Neeson.

At the end of the day, there is no substitute for travel to Ireland itself which remains the surefire way to ensure the continuance of the close Irish and American links.

Ireland is a great brand and a great location for young kids, a place that allows them to connect on a very serious level with family, roots and fields of dreams they may only have heard about from their grandparents.

One hopes the new scheme will involve many other countries in the future, such as Britain where there is a great unmet need as stars like Ed Sheeran and Shane MacGowan make clear, or Australia and Canada where the Irish have planted their flags for centuries now.

You only have to look at the recent cancellation of the Sydney St. Patrick’s Day parade due to funding issues to understand how difficult it can become to sustain a cultural heritage.

That is why the new venture needs to succeed and do so powerfully in the years ahead. We should never take the diaspora Irish for granted, and the roots program is an important step in the right direction.