Chuck Feeney (1931-2023) made a vital contribution to the peacebuilding work of Glencree at a particular moment in the Northern Ireland peace process over a period of ten years. His funding support came at a crucial time in 1994 which enabled the Centre to re-open its buildings in July of that year, appoint the first full-time Chief Executive (Ian White), and initiate a programme of political dialogue workshops to follow up on the IRA and Loyalist ceasefires. The funding also supported the launch of the Glencree LIVE project to work with the victims of the Troubles for a number of years.
As an American-Irish philanthropist inspired by Andrew Carnegie, Mr. Feeney created a new style of philanthropy based on ‘giving while living’, in which he distributed his entire wealth during his lifetime. When Glencree received his funding through the Tara Consultancy in 1994, it was under the strict condition of anonymity. His contribution only became public when the Consultancy subsequently became known as Atlantic Philanthropies.
A native of New Jersey, Mr. Feeney’s paternal grandmother came from Kinawley in Co Fermanagh. After graduating in 1956, he discovered the potential of duty-free shopping at international airports. Drawing on the model of Co. Clare hotelier and pioneer Brendan O’Regan who established the world’s first duty-free at Shannon airport, Mr. Feeney and business partner Robert Miller co-founded Duty Free Shoppers (DFS). They went on to set up the duty-free in Hong Kong and Hawaii airports, and other airports across Asia. In 1996, he sold his share in DFS for a considerable billion-dollar sum.
True to character, Mr. Feeney didn’t forget Brendan O’Regan and offered much marketing advice to the Shannon team in the early days to further develop it as a duty-free hub. When Brendan retired and set up Cooperation North to build social and economic links with Northern Ireland, much of the funding for this work came from Atlantic Philanthropies. Notably, in hosting the first International Conference on Peacebuilding at University of Limerick (UL) and Magee College in Derry in 1986, Brendan brought together leading peace theorists (including Joe Montville who originated the concept of Track Two) with American and British academics. This became the founding moment of the Irish Peace Institute. Other educational-based peace initiatives that benefitted from Mr Feeney’s philanthropy were the Southern Movement for Peace, administered by Dorothy Cantwell, and the first Peace Chair at UL to support the MA in Peace Studies.
With his vision, funding flexibility and benevolence, Chuck Feeney leaves a lasting legacy in peacebuilding across the island of Ireland.
Glencree extends our deepest condolences to Mr. Feeney’s family at this sad time.