Willing donations


Legacy Promotion Ireland aims to encourage people to remember charities when making their wills

WHEN YOU hear about a legacy, an image of a teapot doesn’t immediately spring to mind. Nor does a bicycle. Or a cluster of islands. But all these gifts have all been welcome legacies for bodies such as the Abbey Theatre and An Taisce.

Oxfam in Britain has received some unusual legacies over the years, including gold teeth, a dentist’s chair, greyhounds and shares in the original Woolwich Arsenal Football Club.

Anyone who enjoys an occasional bet will marvel at Nicholas Newlife from Oxfordshire, who has achieved the rare feat of winning bets from his grave. Mr Newlife (69) left his entire estate to Oxfam when he died in February 2009, including the outcomes of the series of outstanding bets he had placed.

The bets are pinned on the future successes of tennis players Roger Federer and Andy Roddick and cricketer Ramnaresh Sarwan. Oxfam has already earned some money on the bets and estimates that they could net £330,000 (€388,000) over the next 10 years if they are successful.

Leaving a legacy may not be a priority for many cash-strapped people at the moment, but a new campaign reminds people that bequests are not just for the wealthy few. More than 30 charities and voluntary organisations have come together as Legacy Promotion Ireland to encourage people to remember them in their wills.

Research has found that more than 60 per cent of Irish people say they would consider leaving a charitable bequest in their will, but in 2008 only 42.5 per cent of people who died had made a will. And, of those, just over 12 per cent left money to a charity.

The charities all stress that you don’t have to be rich to leave a bequest and it doesn’t have to be cash. The Abbey Theatre has been left a variety of objects over the years and says that every one is cherished. The daughter of the Horniman tea family was the theatre’s first benefactor, which might explain the reason behind an anonymous bequest of a metal Horniman’s teapot and a box of tea in 2003.

Annie Horniman donated £10,300 to the Abbey between 1904 and 1910, which the theatre estimates would be equivalent to more than €4 million in today’s money. The Horniman company was later bought over by Lyons Tea.

The theatre also received a gift of an army bicycle from the Emergency period when members of the army were equipped with special issue bicycles with a gun support on the chassis. The bicycle successfully made its stage debut in a production of Thomas Kilroy’s Christ Deliver Us!earlier this year.

But the most important legacy given to the Abbey was left by the playwright and theatre producer Lennox Robinson. When he died in 1958 he left all his copyright in his work to his wife, and after her death to the directors of the National Theatre Society, now the Abbey Theatre.

His wish was that the copyrights assigned to the Abbey would be held as a trust fund which would support theatre practitioners. The copyrights passed to the theatre in 1997 and beneficiaries of the fund include Dermot Bolger, Alan Gilsenan and Conall Morrison.

The Abbey’s director of public affairs and development, Oonagh Desire, says thousands of people have been inspired and entertained by the theatre over the years, so it makes sense that they want to give something back.

“Leaving a charitable bequest in your will is one way for you to support what we do and ensure that the Abbey continues to thrive in the future,” she says. “If you’ve always loved coming here, you can make a difference by leaving something behind.”

Small gestures can make a big difference to charities that are struggling to raise funds, says Dr Neil Johnson, chief executive of Croí, the west of Ireland cardiac foundation.

He recalls one man who made a major difference to the lives of Aran islanders when he died. The Donegal man, who had retired to the islands, left a bequest to Croí, with the requirement that essential cardiac equipment be bought for the Aran Islands.

Croí receives two or three legacies a year and he says it’s not a bad thing to remind people of their options. “Where people have no family it probably is a good thing that someone would at least discuss the options with them,” he says.

Leaving a teapot behind would be within the reach of many people, but what about a castle or an island? Many of the properties owned by An Taisce, Ireland’s national trust, have been bequeathed to the organisation.

“Kanturk Castle was the first acquisition in 1900,” recalls John Ducie of An Taisce’s properties and conservation office. “The properties donated to An Taisce are invaluable as they allow us to develop and maintain the rich heritage around Ireland.”

He knows of three friends who all left properties to the trust. Kathleen Goodfellow left The Grove – a wildlife sanctuary on Morehampton Road – to An Taisce in 1979. Her friend Dorothy A Dewar left Gull Islands in Donegal’s Mulroy Bay to the trust in 1989, while Naomi Overend left the neighbouring Rough Island to An Taisce in 1995.

“All these properties are in trust for the people of Ireland forever. That’s a tremendous legacy,” says Mr Ducie. “If you love a place, why not leave it so that it can be shared by other people?”

See mylegacy.ie for information on the charities and voluntary groups involved in Legacy Promotion Ireland.