AS ALWAYS, the year features an awful lot of people spending an awful lot of money and, in many cases, a large chunk ended up in the coffers of the legal eagles as parties fell out for assorted reasons. When they weren’t slugging it out in the courts, the rich found other ways to splurge whether it was fast cars, gobsmacking expensive properties, fancy watches or just rather expensive tasting menus (at least in those establishments that have survived). And all the while, the influencers counted their dosh.
Unusually, the year is ending with a rather large spotlight being shone on billionaire John Magnier, who tends to stay out of the light unless the subject is thoroughbred horseflesh. The Squire of Coolmore has long dominated the racehorse breeding world but this time the headlines concern a legal spat over his claim to have done a €15m deal to acquire the 750-acre Barne Estate from one Richard Thomas-Moore.
Trouble began brewing in earnest when another player with very deep pockets, Kerry-born New York businessman Maurice Regan, took a shine to the Co Tipperary estate himself and bunged in his own bid, which is rather closer to €20m. As a result, the legal eagles have been called in and the proceedings have been admitted to the fast-track commercial court list, with the plaintiffs listed as Magnier, his son, John Paul, and his daughter, Kate Wachman.
When the matter returns to the Four Goldmines before Christmas, there will be a lot of beady eyes taking note of what transpires – the kind of situation Squire Magnier has generally managed to avoid over the last four decades as he has built up his enormous wealth. What odds on a resolution before the fun starts?
Of course, property-related legal disputes are par for the course but another one featuring some interesting cast members concerns the sprawling Danes Hollow mansion in Howth. This was the house purchased by concert promoter extraordinaire Peter Aiken and his wife, Mary, in 2017, when the minted couple lashed out €8.2m, although it was only officially registered in their names in August 2021.
Peter is the face of Aiken Promotions while Mary has made a name for herself in the increasingly lucrative online ‘safety tech’ sector and famously advised on CBS’s CSI:Cyber, which starred Patricia Arquette, first broadcast almost a decade ago.
The previous owners of Danes Hollow (which sits on 3.3 acres) are no small-time players either. The house was sold by former RTÉ chairwoman Moya Doherty and hubby John McColgan, the founders of TV production outfit Tyrone Productions and the brains behind the worldwide smash Riverdance. The couple, who lived there from the late 1990s, had originally sought €9.5m when they first put their cliff-top pile on the market in April 2016, before knocking a chunky €1.3m off the asking price.
In August this year, the Aikens filed High Court proceedings against Doherty and McColgan, as well as neighbours Suzy and Ronan O’Brien, in what has been described as a boundary dispute. (Suzy is the daughter of Gaybo and Kathleen Watkins.) The Aikens followed this up with a writ against legal eagles Gerard McErlean and Gabriel Maguire of Maguire McErlean solicitors in D9, although there have been no subsequent court filings in either case since August.
Another celeb with property on his mind was former rugby super star turned investor Brian O’Driscoll, who found himself among 50 or so holiday home owners, all represented by Clark Hill Solicitors, who lodged High Court proceedings this summer over a dispute with a management company. This relates to a previous High Court agreement signed off in 2017 between the owners of the holiday homes on the grounds of Seafield Hotel in Ballymoney, outside Gorey, Co Wexford.
The hotel resort was developed many moons ago by high-profile developer David Cullen, who found himself owing millions to Nama after the crash. Today, Stephen and Mark Cullen are listed as the directors of the management company being sued over the level of the service charges and a demand for payment of arrears.
Rather larger sums featured in an action involving Sally Cox, the widow of legendary racehorse trainer Bunny Cox, who transferred his valuable estate into the couple’s joint names a year before he died in 2006. Unfortunately for Sally (daughter of champion jockey Aubrey Brabazon), this year the High Court ruled that the transfer had been done under duress. Given that the assets (mainly development land in Co Louth) were valued at over €30m, this was a pretty big deal.
Significantly, however, Judge Denis McDonald said that Sally had not acted in any sinister or wrongful way, although the transfer of ownership of the estate did not reflect Bunny Cox’s wish to provide for both his wife and all his children. As a result, the court ruled that the 2005 transfer should be set aside and replaced by a new will that he had made three months after the transfer. This latter document left 50% to Sally, 20% to son Richard, and 10% each to daughters, Jennifer, Suzanne and Michelle.
Another big bucks family spat that ended up heading to the Four Goldmines saw Denise Cosgrave, widow of builder Joe, suing her dead husband’s two brothers (and a couple of firms that make up the hugely profitable Cosgrave Group).
She claims that Michael and William Cosgrave have used their brother’s death early this year to take control of the empire by refusing to accept that his will was sufficient evidence of her entitlement to be registered as a shareholder. The claim is denied by the brothers.
Clonskeagh-based Denise, executor of Joe’s will, is seeking declarations that she is entitled to be registered as a one-third shareholder in Genstar Unlimited and JOM Investments Unlimited. Documents just filed in the Companies Office still list the shares as being held in the names of Michael, William and “Joe Cosgrave (deceased)”.
Denise also claims that Genstar and JOM are proposing to make irrevocable decisions that will impact the group, including the proposed sale of large swathes of development land. The row is due back in court in early December and should attract a fair degree of interest from the denizens of south County Dublin, given the vast sums involved.
Another estate that made headlines this year was that of John Broderick, as a result of the shutting down of a puppy farm owned by his daughter, Co Cork breeder Anne Broderick, who is well-known in horseracing circles. The Oirish Mail on Sunday reported that she previously inherited a substantial share of her father’s multimillion-euro estate.
Anne had a licence to breed 50 dogs but Cork County Council inspectors said they found significantly more animals on site, distressed and housed in cramped conditions, when they inspected the breeding operation, which is located on the grounds of The Hermitage, La Broderick’s sprawling Co Cork estate outside Doneraile.
As a result, her puppy farm was shut down for posing “a serious and immediate threat to animal welfare”, although Anne subsequently lodged an appeal with the District Court on the grounds that her breeding operation is now much reduced in scale and therefore compliant with the legislation.
Horseracing heiress Anne inherited her 50-acre estate from her late father John, who died in 2016 leaving an estate valued at €11.6m. The high-profile breeder was probably best known for Paddy De Plaster, who won at Cheltenham.
This year wasn’t too memorable either for the Irish boss of oil giant BP, Bernard Looney, who was forced to resign after just three years as CEO for failing to fully disclose details of past personal relationships with colleagues. Given that Bernard, described as an oil industry “rock star” last year, trousered more than €11m in 2022, the memory lapse looks like an expensive one.
Dublin influencer Christopher Mellon will also be looking to move on from 2023 as quickly as possible, having been convicted for participating in drug trafficking. The operation had been “masterminded” by Fran Fennell, who was jailed for eight years and described in court as the head of a criminal enterprise that exported drugs into Australia and New Zealand.
Happily, Christopher avoided a stint behind bars, with Judge Pauline Codd noting the defendant had “self-rehabilitated completely” and is now running a number of businesses. These include online marketing ventures such as DigiGlow and Disco Social, although he resigned as a director of both at the time of his court hearing.
The business of influencing has continued to expand here, with some real money being generated by familiar faces like Suzanne Jackson and Aimee Connolly, who have successfully transitioned to the real world of cosmetics retail. Reality telly star Maura Higgins of Love Island fame was able to boast accumulated profits of over £150,000 in her recently incorporated Flutter Effect company (which mainly flogs fake eyelashes), despite having spent £200,000 on “fixed asset investments”. Maura holds 100% of the shares here and has also established an Irish company with the same name.
The annual Platinum VIP Style Awards featured a posse of influencers, along with old-fashioned celebs and RTÉ broadcasters. Presented by the always busy Doireann Garrihy, the cast list included the likes of Rosanna Davison, Jennifer Zamparelli and Lottie Ryan.
The most stylish woman gong was picked up by Sosume’s Suzanne Jackson, with “international choreographer” Arthur Gourounlian awarded the male equivalent. Health and wellness influencer Georgie Crawford got the nod for look of the year, while the title of Ireland’s most stylish online influencer was bagged by self-confessed travel addict, Terrie McEvoy.
While these players all attract a more than respectable following on social media, Goldhawk was interested to come across an Irish teenage TikTok creator, with a massive 14.2 million followers on the platform who appear to be addicted to Victoria Adeyinka’s videos (including assorted impressions of her mother) and now like to listen to her “motivational and spiritual” music.
Midlands-based insurance broker turned fashion blogger Lisa McGowan continued to rake in the dosh and her Lisa’s Lust List business was left sitting on accumulated profits of €1.2m at the end of 2022 and that was after paying herself remuneration of a rather fashionable €940,000 for the 12 months.
This year also saw Lisa starting to build a new house, which, according to the planning files, is a no ordinary abode but a spacious 4,000 sq ft pile on Tullamore’s Charleville Road with a 7ft-high boundary wall to “enhance privacy”.
Property was also on the mind of Vogue Williams, who has had a particularly good year, cashing in big time courtesy of a sell-out tour of the live show of her podcast with comedian Joanne McNally, My Therapist Ghosted Me. Vogue’s Howth Media Ltd was sitting on accumulated profits of almost €1.5m last year, according to recently filed accounts (although Vogue did owe her company €385,000).
The gals’ tour includes no less than five sell-outs at the 3Arena, while they turn out to be big Down Under, with shows in the likes of Sydney, Brisbane and Perth.
It turns out that Vogue might also have a knack for the property game, having apparently scooped a profit of up to €400,000 when selling her Howth townhouse for around €1.3m, according to the estate agent.
Some of that moolah will, however, be put aside for the next property purchase with hubby Spencer Matthews. Vogue has made it clear that the London-based couple are in the process of acquiring a substantially larger house, also in the Howth area where she grew up.
Others playing with property in 2023 include Ryanair boss Mick O’Leary, whose portfolio of trophy homes was expanded with the addition of Four Winds, a former retreat for nuns in Co Wexford sitting on a 2.5-acre beachfront site, acquired by Micko’s Manchester-based vehicle, Krummhorn.
A fair sprinkling of multimillion-euro piles were on display this year and some pretty big bucks were shelled out. For example, the three-storey 11,000 sq ft modernist Paddock Wood in Killiney has been offloaded by Brendan and Fionnuala McCabe for a hefty €8.5m. This, however, turns out to be €1.25m less than the €9.75m sought when the couple first put it on the market in August last year.
Other notable properties for sale in 2023 include the former Dalkey home of one-time Smurfit Group number two Howard Kilroy, Rarc-an-Ilan, which has an €8m price tag. Another Smurfit alumni, Peter Gleeson, put his Shrewsbury Road mansion, Melfort, up for sale and is seeking an eye-watering €13m.
Of course, it wasn’t all about old redbrick piles. The penthouses in Joe O’Reilly’s luxury Lansdowne Place apartment complex in Ballsbridge started to generate a lot of activity, with properties in the development fetching startling sums. It was reported that duty-free moneybags Fred Combe splashed out €6.5m for his penthouse in D4, while another went for €7m – a new record for the most expensive apartment sold in Ireland. Other Lansdowne Place owners include Roy Keane and Rod Stewart.
A property that generated significant interest was Dermot Desmond’s townhouse on Dublin’s Merrion Square, after it was put up for sale for €10m in 2020. Overall, the experience has not been one of wily DD’s more profitable ones, given the near €5m restoration job carried out on the D2 property acquired from fashion designer Sybil Connolly for €7m back in 2000.
The new owners are Glen Dimplex chairman Fergal Naughton and his wife, Rachel, who paid just over €9m for the city centre house. Fergal is the son of minted Glen Dimplex founder Martin Naughton and served as chief executive of his father’s hugely successful engineering firm for five year up to 2021.
Inherited wealth accounts for a sizeable chunk of the moolah sloshing around Ireland and a Central Bank report this year highlighted the importance of “intergenerational transfers” in Irish society. The research indicates that the value of inherited wealth in the state is not far off €97bn. Not too surprisingly, the report also found that households that received inheritances or gifts were “substantially wealthier” and tended to own more homes and businesses than households that did not inherit any wealth.
One of those who knows something about inheriting a few bob is low-profile Peter Smurfit, son of Alan Smurfit (brother of Mick Smurfit). Pete opted not to follow daddy into the paper and packaging game and, instead, has his own online wellness business. The website notes that Pete is “all about inspiring people to step into their power, open up their imaginations and explore what they are capable of”.
One thing the moneybags has proven capable of is proposing to the glamorous former reality TV star Virginia Macari, best remembered here for TV3’s Dublin Wives fame. Smurfit met the beauty in sunny Monaco and the Marbella-based couple, who have been posting snaps of their sun-soaked travels for some time, announced their engagement this summer.
Back home, there has been plenty of bling on display too, with the number of Irish ‘super rich’ (over $50m) having more than doubled to over 1,400 people in the 10 years to 2022, according to an Oxfam Ireland study.
Among the less-well-known names to now sport the ‘super rich’ tag are waste entrepreneur Eamon Waters (ex-Panda Waste) and eShopWorld founder Tommy Kelly, who have individually been splashing the cash with some enthusiasm on various business acquisitions and property investments.
When Kelly sold out of his ecommerce venture in 2021, the deal valued the company at €1.4bn and he scooped around half of this. The same year, Waters disposed of his Beauparc Utilities group for €1.6bn.
Kelly’s fingerprints have been on a lot of deals in 2023 but what probably caught the imagination is his proposed €2m renovation of the 300-year-old Seafield House on 80 acres in north Co Dublin. Using a company set up specifically for the purpose, he has applied to Fingal Co Council to build a two-storey extension on the west side of the protected Palladian mansion, which he picked up for around €10m after cashing in his chips at eShopWorld. The house was actually sold by Sherry FitzGerald, which is a company since acquired by Kelly.
It wasn’t too hard to follow the money in 2023 given the abundant signs of serious wealth on show. For example, there is the news that international jewellery brands are now heading to Dublin, including the likes of Astrid & Miyu and Fossil Group. A lot more fancy watches are also on display in the capital these days, courtesy of Paul Sheeran’s luxury ‘watch mall’, which opened just off Grafton Street and features boutique stores by the likes of Cartier, Panerai and Breitling.
When the latter launched limited edition Six Nations rugby championship watches at €8,500 a pop, they sold out before you could say ‘TMO’.
Then there were the flash cars, with figures released by the finance department showing a significant upward trend for the sale of so-called supercars, vehicles costing more than €100,000 (from the likes of Porsche and Maserati).
Meanwhile, Dublin engineer David McMurtry has developed an electric ‘hypercar’, which has a price tag just south of €1m and will go on sale next year, according to a report in the Sunday Times. McMurtry has a one-third stake in Renishaw, the engineering company behind the wonder-car.
Also on the up are sales of big SUVs, despite their less-than-green credentials. Indeed, this trend for bigger, heavier vehicles has acquired its own name – autobesity.
A collection of 40 bottles of Midleton Very Rare whiskey from 1984 was offered for sale at a stiff €110,000 by the Single Malt Shop.
For the consumers of fancy wines in upmarket restaurants, however, 2023 was a rather mixed year. One of the first big shake-ups to the scene was the failure of Enda McEvoy’s Michelin-starred Loam restaurant in Galway to reopen in January, with the chef blaming increasingly “insane” running costs.
Then there was the surprise exit of Jordan and Majken Bailey from Aimsir restaurant in Barry O’Callaghan’s Cliff at Lyons operation in Co Kildare. The culinary super-star couple had managed to land two Michelin stars at Aimsir within months of opening their doors in 2019. They have since set up a consultancy business and were also behind a pop-up venture in Carton House during the summer.
Mickael Viljanen’s Chapter One ends the year with the two Michelin stars he started out with. This was despite an extra helping of hype leading up to the 2023 Michelin Guide ceremony, with Irish food critics left visibly flabbergasted by the judges’ failure to do the right thing. “Shock as Chapter One does not get coveted third Michelin star in new guide” screamed the Indo headline in an article by a distraught Katy McGuinness the next day.
There was some actual bad news in Ballsbridge where ‘celebrity chef’ Richard Corrigan had undertaken an expensive fit-out of the large Shelbourne Social restaurant shuttered by Dylan McGrath a couple of years back. The renamed Park Café found itself on the menu at the Irish Times in January, when reviewer Corinna Hardgrave outlined how the new restaurant was losing staff at quite a pace due to what they claimed was an unacceptable working environment, where the main item on the menu appeared to be “tears”. Corrigan denied that staff were treated poorly.
There was some good news in 2023, for children at least, with fine dining for the little rascals increasingly on the cards. The latest brainwave involves swanky tasting menus for kids – an idea extolled by Galway’s mouthy super-chef, JP McMahon, whose Michelin-starred Aniar serves up tasting menus for spoiled young foodies at a bargain €75 a head – half the €150 charged to boring old adults.
Goldhawk notes that $75 tasting menus for dogs are already starting to feature in San Francisco and elsewhere, and surely Ireland will catch up in 2024. Who would bet against it?