Entrepreneur who gave away N$155 billion fortune dies

Chuck Feeney

The Irish-American entrepreneur and philanthropist, Chuck Feeney, who gave away his US$8 billion (N$155 billion) fortune to causes on five continents, has died at the age of 92.

Feeney donated his fortune through his private foundation, Atlantic Philanthropies.

The foundation gave US$570m (N$11 billion) to causes in Northern Ireland over four decades.

Its main areas of interest have been health, education, reconciliation and human rights.

Feeney dissolved the foundation in 2020, but by then it had made more than US$8 billion in grants, mainly in the United States, the United Kingdom, 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 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, 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, Feeney received an honorary doctorate of laws from the universities on the island of Ireland.


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

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

Martin said he had worked directly with 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 Feeney’s grants from 1993 to 2015, being gifted a total of US$132 million (N$2,5 billion).

It also received the single biggest donation from Atlantic Philanthropies, when it was gifted US$24 million (N$464 million) in 2012.

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

Another cornerstone of 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 Atlantic Philanthropies back in 1991.

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

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