Donations by the mega-rich not unusual

"YOU can't wear more than one pair of shoes at a time," multi-millionaire, Mr Charles "Chuck" Feeney, told the New York Times…

"YOU can't wear more than one pair of shoes at a time," multi-millionaire, Mr Charles "Chuck" Feeney, told the New York Times this week. This was by way of explaining his charitable donations of more than $600 million (£375 million) to hospitals, universities and other needy bodies.

The extraordinary generosity of the Irish-American who made a fortune from duty free shops first made the front pages of the New York Times and then of newspapers on this side of the Atlantic when it was discovered that beneficiaries of the publicity-shy Mr Feeney include four Irish universities who have collectively received $30 million.

Such deep-pocketed philanthropy is understandably rare but donations of large sums of money by the mega rich, particularly to Irish educational institutions, are not unusual.

Tony O'Reilly's charitable contributions in Ireland are of generous proportions but don't quite rival Mr Feeney's. As founder of the Ireland Fund he has given millions of pounds to establish the organisation, as has his wife Chryss. He donated £2 million to Trinity College for the O'Reilly Institute of Technology and a further £2 million to UCD to fund the O'Reilly Hall.


The main difference between the two men's actions is obvious. Mr Feeney mostly gave anonymously - the story only came to light as a result of an impending court case. Dr O'Reilly's donations are very public and as such perhaps buy the businessman a kind of immortality.

Michael Smurfit is as publicly generous. In 1988 he gave O'Connell Street in Dublin the Millennium Fountain. Whether the city fully appreciates his £200,000 sculpture is quite another matter. UCD is certainly grateful for his £2.5 million for the Smurfit School of Business and Trinity his £1 million to establish the Smurfit Chair in Genetics.

Irish-American Donald Keough, who is the CEO of Coca Cola, gave £1 million to fund a chair at Trinity as did Sammy Nasr, an Iraqi-born graduate with fond memories of his alma mater. Dr Donald Panoz founder of the Elan Corporation has contributed heavily to the new School of Pharmacy in Trinity which will bear his name.

Lady Normamby donated £1 million to the college in memory of her father Lord Moyne.

In 1996 the Ireland Fund collected £6.5 million with donations that included several hundred thousand pounds from Irish-American millionaire, Tom Tracy, who has made it big in autoparts in San Francisco.

However, the Fund's biggest single donation wasn't from an Irish person at all. Lew Glucksman, a New York-based financier and corporate banker gave £1.3 million - the year before he gave £3 million which went to the University of Limerick.

Racehorse owner. Sheikh Mohammed Maktoum, is known to be generous where donating to charity is concerned. Most of his donations are anonymous but one that did make the headlines was his donation of the £338,350 prize money he won at the 1995 Budweiser Irish Derby to the St Vincent de Paul and other local Kildare charities.

Cultural institutions benefit hugely from private donations. George Bernard Shaw's bequest of a third of his royalties to the National Gallery of Ireland has amounted to nearly £4 million and the gallery's single biggest donation was the multi-million pound Alfred Beit Collectiont.

Bernice Harrison

Bernice Harrison

Bernice Harrison is an Irish Times journalist