Irish America Hall of Fame: Charles Feeney


This was only the start. Feeney became interested in reconciliation, and when the Americans for a New Irish Agenda (ANIA) formed, Feeney was one of its key members. The group traveled to Northern Ireland numerous times with the goal of encouraging Republicans to lay down arms and begin negotiating. Likewise, they also worked to convince the Clinton administration to reach out to Northern Ireland. Today, Feeney modestly places the group in the big picture. “Clearly we weren’t players in the action…We were not dumb enough to think that we were a motivating force.”  Yet, the group did play an important and influential role.

Feeney’s involvement was not one- sided. He funded for three years a Sinn Féin office in Washington, DC, an action that resulted in criticism from the media. Yet, he also personally funded loyalist groups desiring to stop the violence in Northern Ireland.

At the same time as he began his involvement with the peace process, Feeney began aiding Irish universities. The same day he met Healy for the first time, the two had lunch at the University Club in Dublin. Sitting at the table next to them was Ed Walsh, president of what was then called the National Institute of Higher Education in Limerick. Healy introduced him to Walsh, and Feeney became a major benefactor of the National Institute, which is now known as the University of Limerick. In keeping with his beliefs, Feeney’s name does not appear on any buildings at the university.

Giving It All Away
In 2002, the Atlantic Philanthropies announced it would spend down its endowment within the next twelve to fifteen years. What was at the time a highly unusual action has become a growing trend, with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation being the most prominent charitable organization to set a closure date. Though far from widespread, Feeney’s belief in giving while living is starting to find a wider audience and more practitioners.

Today, the Atlantic Philanthropies no longer gives grants to universities. Instead, the organization is focused on the issues of health, aging, children & youth, human rights and reconciliation. As of December 31, 2009, the Atlantic Philanthropies was worth approximately $2.2 billion, including $814 million in already committed grants. Over $5.4 billion in grants had been given out, lifetime, by the end of 2010.

Feeney has found immense pleasure and satisfaction in giving away his fortune. He believes that by giving the money now, it is already accomplishing good work.