What Chuck Feeney’s fistful of dollars did for education

By 2016 philanthropist Chuck Feeney will have given €1.5 billion to education projects in Ireland. A weighty new photographic book illustrates his generosity here and abroad

Schoolchildren in Cape Town visit Robben Island; the island’s visitor centre is funded by Atlantic Philanthropies. Photograph by magnum from the book laying the foundations for change

Twenty-five years ago, Chuck Feeney made his first grant to Ireland through Atlantic Philanthropies. University of Limerick was the recipient, and that institution has had a special place in Feeney's heart – and pocket – ever since.

“Chuck always liked the underdog,” says Colin McCrea, Atlantic’s former senior vice-president, in a new book on the Feeney’s legacy. UL was new “and looked down on by the established universities. Chuck gravitated towards that.”

The book, produced by Atlantic Philanthropies with photography by news agency Magnum, attempts to capture the impact of Feeney’s generosity across the globe. By 2016, when Atlantic’s donations will cease, it will have given more than €6 billion globally, including €1.5 billion in Ireland.

Capturing that sort of investment has resulted in a two-part tome of such weight that only the sturdiest of coffee tables will accommodate it. The message to the super-rich is clear: you too can have this impact.


In an introduction, Microsoft founder Bill Gates describes Feeney as "an icon of global philanthropy", while former president Mary Robinson says he has done "remarkable things for Ireland, North and South".

The first grant made by Atlantic was in 1982 to Cornell University, Feeney's alma mater. The New York university has received grants of $1 billion.

In Ireland, the list of educational projects associated with Atlantic is enormous: €13.5 million to develop Boole Library at UCC; €20.5 million for the Tyndall National Institute; €22.2 million for The Helix at DCU; €13.1 million for Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience; €9.1 million for TCD Ussher Library; €9.8 million for the National Centre for Biomedical Engineering Science at NUI Galway; €21.9 million for UL's Bernal research project. On it goes.

"No buildings bear Chuck's name," notes Atlantic's chief executive, Christopher G Oechsli, "though in a couple, someone managed to sneak a plaque on to a wall . . . But Chuck has been clear about this. He has been known to insist that, if a name is to appear somewhere on a plaque or honour roll, it be the name of another donor who was willing to take his challenge to contribute in a big way."

  • Taoiseach Enda Kenny will launch Laying Foundations for Change at the Royal Irish Academy on Thursday, September 17th, with a panel discussion on the power of philanthropy