Up to eighty million people around the world trace some of their ancestral roots to Ireland, including at least two million Australians. The strong ties between Australia and Ireland provide a compelling case to develop academic study of Ireland diaspora in Australia.
The University of New South Wales (UNSW) has a long tradition in the field of Irish and Irish-Australian studies, most notably through the pioneering work of Professor Patrick O'Farrell (1933-2003). O'Farrell was the leading historian of Irish-Australia, appointed to a personal chair in History at UNSW in 1972 and the first Scientia Professor from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.
In the late 1990s, funding was received from various sources and events in the Sydney Irish community for a Chair in Modern Irish Studies at UNSW. In April 2010 Ronan McDonald, an internationally renowned scholar of Irish literature, was appointed as the inaugural Australian Ireland Fund Chair in Modern Irish Studies. The John Hume Institute for Global Irish Studies was established in 2010 to galvanise the work of the new Chair and to spearhead research into Irish Studies at UNSW.