Saturday 26 July 2014

Feeney planning a Davos-style think-tank for Kerry seaside

Sarah McCabe

Published 29/06/2014|02:30

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Chuck Feeney pictured when he was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Laws jointly by all the Universities on the island of Ireland at Dublin Castle a number of years back. Photo: Mark Condren.
Chuck Feeney pictured when he was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Laws jointly by all the Universities on the island of Ireland at Dublin Castle a number of years back. Photo: Mark Condren.

US philanthropist Chuck Feeney has created plans for a "Davos in residence" think-tank that would bring heads of states from around the world to Kerry village Kenmare, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

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The founder of Atlantic Philanthropies, one of the world's most prolific charitable donors, had planned to build the permanent Davos-style centre at Dromquinna, a picturesque site in coastal haven Kenmare.

Mr Feeney took initial steps towards buying the site after it was put up for sale by Bank of Ireland in 2011. But he later withdrew his offer, and it was snapped up by hotelier John Brennan for €2.25m.

Mr Brennan, star of RTE hospitality show At Your Service alongside brother Francis, also runs the neighbouring Park House Hotel in Kenmare. He has since launched a luxury camping and wedding business at the site.

But New Jersey-born Irish-American Mr Feeney has not abandoned plans for the Davos-style centre, which would host leaders from academia and industry as well as heads of state, it is understood. Mr Feeney, 83, who is known for his personal frugality and travels on economy flights despite his considerable wealth, is Ireland's largest ever private donor.

He is famed for his "giving while living" approach and has committed to donating his entire $8bn (€5.8bn) fortune during his lifetime. He has been cited by famed investor Warren Buffett and Microsoft founder Bill Gates as a key inspiration behind their own philanthropic work.

His organisation Atlantic Philantrophies has donated around €1bn to various Irish causes since it came to Ireland in the mid 1980s.

This has mainly been channelled through universities, funding everything from college buildings to research projects in science, engineering, medicine, technology, business and law. Atlantic will wind down in 2016 when its endowment runs out, leaving a major funding gap in the Irish charity sector.

Mr Feeney's think-tank is not the only major cultural project proposed for Kenmare of late. Plans for a separate €14m art gallery modelled on Bilbao's Guggenheim are at a more advanced stage.

The majority of the funding for this project has been raised but a final €2m must be sourced before construction can begin.

Christened the Centre of Contemporary Irish Culture (CCIC), it will host revolving exhibitions designed to draw domestic and international visitors to the west of Ireland.

Its promoters include Riverdance co-founder Moya Doherty, and Joe Guthrie, the former artistic director at the Abbey Theatre and current artistic director at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, as well as Senator Mark Daly.

Designed by local architect Niall McLaughlin, its facade is modelled on an iconic photograph of Kenmare nuns making lace, a product the town has been known for since the 19th Century.

U2 were approached as sponsors, with each band member to provide €500,000 of the CCIC's costs. Under that deal, the centre was to be renamed in memory of the mother of U2 ex-manager Paul McGuinness, as a 60th birthday present for Mr McGuinness. However, Bono, the Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen ultimately turned the proposal down.

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