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Chuck Feeney: Entrepreneur and philanthropist dies

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The Irish-American entrepreneur and philanthropist Chuck Feeney has died at the age of 92.

Mr Feeney, through his private foundation the Atlantic Philanthropies, donated more than $8bn (£6.5bn) to causes on five continents. The foundation gave $570m (£465m) to causes in Northern Ireland over four decades. Its main areas of interest have been health, education, reconciliation and human rights.

Mr Feeney dissolved the foundation in 2020, but by then it had made more than $8 billion (£6.5bn) in grants, mainly in the United States, the UK, the Republic of Ireland, Australia, South Africa, Vietnam, Bermuda, and Cuba.

Charles F Feeney was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, in 1931, during the Great Depression, to Irish-American parents.

His mother worked as a hospital nurse and his father was an insurance underwriter.

The philanthropist traced his family history back to County Fermanagh, where his grandmother was brought up close to the village of Kinawley.

The entrepreneur made his money selling luxury duty free goods to travellers across the world, but he rejected the trappings of wealth himself.

He went on to found the Atlantic Philanthropies in 1982, an international organisation set up to distribute his fortune to good causes and projects that he supported around the world.

For the first 15 years of his philanthropic mission, Mr Feeney donated money in secret leading to him being dubbed the James Bond of philanthropy, only emerging from anonymity in 1997.

He had a particular interest in supporting universities on both sides of the Irish border, donating hundreds of millions of US dollars.

In 2012, at Dublin Castle, Mr Feeney received an Honorary Doctorate of Laws from the universities on the island of Ireland.

Support for peace

The Tánaiste (Irish deputy prime minister) Micheál Martin said in a statement that he “was deeply saddened” by the news.

He said Mr Feeney had “extraordinary generosity”, and his donations had “transformed the lives of people on the island of Ireland, north and south, young and old”.

Mr Martin said he had worked directly with Mr Feeney and paid “particular tribute to Chuck’s sustained support for peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland over many years”.

Queen’s University Belfast was one of the biggest beneficiaries of Mr Feeney’s grants from 1993 to 2015, being gifted a total of $132m (£107m).

It also received the single biggest donation from the Atlantic Philanthropies, when it was gifted $24m (£19m) in 2012.

It was for the university’s Institute of Health Sciences Centre for Experimental Medicine.

Another cornerstone of Mr Feeney’s philanthropy in Northern Ireland was the promotion of integrated education in the pursuit of reconciliation and peace building.

Down through the decades, it is understood about £8m was gifted to the Integrated Education Fund for various projects and the area is listed as the first sector funded in Northern Ireland by the Atlantic Philanthropies back in 1991.

Atlantic Philanthropies quoted Mr Feeney, who said: “I had one idea that never changed in my mind—that you should use your wealth to help people.”

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