A PUBLICITY-SHY Irish-American billionaire who helped fund the Sinn Fein offices in the United States has emerged as a generous benefactor of Irish universities.
Over the past 15 years Charles "Chuck" Feeney secretly gave away $610 million to medical research centres, universities and other good causes worldwide.
The largest beneficiary in Ireland is the University of Limerick, which has received more than Pounds 15 million since 1989 for projects that include a concert hall, student residences and a library.
The University of Ulster and Co-operation North were given between $1 million and $10 million each and some smaller organisations, such as the Disability Federation of Ireland, also received assistance.
Mr Feeney made his fortune with his company, Duty Free Shoppers Group, which sells cigarettes and drink at airports around the world. He gave his first big donation to his alma mater, Cornell University, in 1981. To preserve his anonymity he gave his 39 per cent share of the business three years later to two foundations to make donations on his behalf.
The foundations were registered in Bermuda in order to avoid tax disclosure regulations in the US and thus protect the philanthropist's anonymity.
Details of his foundations' generosity were revealed with the sale of Duty Free Shops to LVMH Moet Hennessy-Louis Vuitton of France.
Mr Feeney is credited with helping to broker the IRA ceasefire in 1994. He has donated up to $280,000 to the Sinn Fein office in Washington for the past two years and has said he will maintain his support in the hope that the ceasefire will be restored.