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Ulster tycoon invests £8m into new museum charting history of Irish

By Claire McNeilly

Published 04/09/2015

Neville Isdell
Neville Isdell

A Northern Ireland-born tycoon is to invest more than £8m of his own money on a high-tech museum charting the history of Irish people.

Former Coca-Cola CEO Neville Isdell, who is reputed to have earned more than £50m as boss of the global drinks giant, has hired the team behind Titanic Belfast to design and run the operation.

Mr Isdell (72) says he is aiming to entice 400,000 annual visitors to the attraction, which is scheduled to open next May inside Dublin's huge CHQ (Custom House Quay) building.

"It's not all about the famine, not all doom and gloom," said Mr Isdell, who was born in Downpatrick, Co Down, the son of an RUC fingerprints expert.

"It's about how Ireland has made itself bigger than it really is, through the diaspora."

Mr Isdell worked for Coca-Cola for 43 years, starting off with the company in Zambia, where his family moved in the Sixties after his father got a job in law enforcement there.

While in Africa, he initially qualified as a social worker and later had a post in the clothing business before he decided to enter the world of commerce.

The former Somerton House pupil is one of the few Ulstermen ever to have led a Fortune 500 company. Harvard graduate Mr Isdell, who left Coca-Cola in 2008, bought the struggling CHQ two years ago for £7.3m and has already upped the occupancy rate from 25% to 60%.

The 19th-century warehouse, initially built as a tobacco and wine store close to Dublin docks, was converted into a shopping mall in 2007 - just before the worldwide economic crashed.

"When I bought CHQ, some people were calling it a 'morgue'," said Mr Isdell, who revitalised the area by adding high-end cafes and bringing in Dogpatch Labs, which provide working space for tech start-ups. "Marketing is key," the self-confessed Ireland rugby fanatic told Bloomberg news servic e.

"Given where I come from, I do understand the need for marketing."

Mr Isdell, who received an honorary degree for services to business and commerce from Queen's University eight years ago, says he's aware that the new attraction is a gamble but, as someone who is worth tens of millions of pounds and owns luxury mansions in France and the Caribbean, he can afford the risk.

"If it all collapses, I would not be on the dole," he said.

He added: "That said, you don't do these things without being nervous, very nervous."

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