Five charities to receive additional €1m from Elizabeth O'Kelly estate

Five charities to receive additional €1m from Elizabeth O'Kelly estate
Elizabeth O'Kelly at the opening of the Gemma Guihan exhibition in The Dunamaise Arts Centre in 2005. Photo: Alf Harvey.

Gordon Deegan

The five Irish charities that have received €30m from the estate of Laois woman, Mrs Elizabeth O’Kelly, are set to share an additional €1m from the estate.

According to chief executive of one of the five chosen beneficiaries, the Irish Kidney Association (IKA), Mark Murphy, the executor of Mrs O’Kelly's estate “has told us that another €200,000 is due to us before all affairs of the estate are wrapped up and that goes for the other charities as well”.

Mr Murphy said that the IKA has received €6.1m from the estate of Mrs O’Kelly and the additional €200,000 will bring to €6.3m or €31.5m for the five charities in total -the Irish Cancer Society (ICS), the Irish Heart Foundation, the Irish Society for Autism and the RNLI.

The RNLI revealed yesterday that Mrs O'Kelly for many years volunteered her time to help out at an RNLI stall at the RDS in Dublin.

Recalling opening the letter from the executor of Mrs O’Kelly’s estate in November 2017, Mr Murphy said that when he saw the €6m figure “I had a long giggle of nervousness. I was in the room with our chairman and treasurer and it took us 15 minutes to get our breath back”.

Mr Murphy said that a former chair of the IKA and Mrs O’Kelly had a shared passion for archeology.

Mr Murphy said: “Mrs O’Kelly told our then chairman that she had willed us a substantial amount in her will. Never in our wildest dreams did I think the amount would be €6m as our previous largest bequest was €250,000."

Mr Murphy said that he has suggested to the executor of the estate that the charities come together to create a memorial for Ms O’Kelly as a show of appreciation for the "incredible" donation.

"This was immediately shot down and I was told that is not what she was about and would hate something like that,” he said.

Mr Murphy said “as probably the smallest charity of the five, the bequest will have the biggest impact”.

He said that the bequest follows years of deficits at the IKA - accounts show that the IKA sustained a loss of €151,441 in 2016 and €125,000 in 2015.

The bequest in 2017 resulted in a €6m surplus for the IKA. Mr Murphy said: “The bequest could damage us as there is an expectation that people will not be as generous to us in the future, but the projects we have planned will demand continuing resources."

This is massive for us - the €6m is four years of revenues for us. It takes the worry out of the air over fundraising. In recent years, we have had to cut back on things and now we can do more things.

Mr Murphy said that the IKA has already spent €460,000 on a house in Cork that will be converted into a support centre. Mr Murphy said that the overall cost of the project will be €750,000.

He said that Mrs O’Kelly had not made any direct contact with the IKA while alive and a spokeswoman for the Irish Cancer Society (ICS) also confirmed that there was no prior contact with Mrs O’Kelly.

On October 25, 2017, the ICS’s then ceo, John McCormack received the letter from the executor of Ms O’Kelly’s estate where it outlined the approximate €6m bequest.

A spokeswoman for the ICS said on Wednesday: “Mrs O’Kelly’s incredibly generous bequest has provided great hope and inspiration to our staff, volunteers and everyone who benefits from our services.

“With the number of cancer patients at an all-time high, we are experiencing unprecedented requests for help from cancer patients and their families.

“Prioritising day-to-day services has enabled us to meet this demand but the battle against cancer will only be won through much greater investment in research and transformational projects.

Mrs O’Kelly’s legacy will be the seed for this investment, helping us deliver improvements that would be impossible otherwise. Her generosity will touch so many lives and enable more people to survive and thrive after a cancer diagnosis.

CEO of the Irish Heart Foundation, Tim Collins said that the €6m bequest “is the single biggest donation ever received by the Irish Heart Foundation in our 52 years of existence”.

He said: “Mrs O’Kelly was a remarkable woman who with her will has gifted five Irish charities a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to invest in and transform Irish society.

In order to ensure Mrs O’Kelly’s generous donation is put to best effect and has a long-lasting impact, the IHF has ringfenced the donation and spent the past number of months working on a large-scale innovative project in the area of childhood obesity.

A spokeswoman for the IHF said Mrs O’Kelly “had not made contact with the IHF before her death, but this is not unusual. Most of the bequests we receive are from people who have themselves or whose families have been impacted by heart disease or stroke and who want to see fewer people are similarly affected”.

The Irish Society for Autism also welcomed the €6m bequest.

Deputy Executive Director of the Irish Society for Autism, Tara Matthews said, “We are greatly appreciative of Mrs O’Kelly’s enormously generous donation. A contribution of this size will have a major impact on the society’s work and help to progress the understanding of autism within Ireland. Equipped with knowledge and training, we can all make a significant impact in helping improve the lives of those with autism and their families.”

A spokeswoman for the RNLI said that it is "deeply grateful and humbled" by Mrs O'Kelly's generosity. She said: "Mrs O’Kelly asked that her legacy be used to support the RNLI’s lifesaving work in Ireland. The impact of her incredible generosity will be directly felt by our volunteer crews and the people whose lives they save for many years to come."

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