Business Farming

Sunday 25 September 2016

Equestrian big hitters are racing ahead in land market

Coolmore, JP McManus and new entrants such as the Comers are buying up thousands of acres

Jim O'Brien

Published 16/12/2015 | 02:30

Coolmore bought Ravensdale House on 223ac near Maynooth for €4.75m last June.
Coolmore bought Ravensdale House on 223ac near Maynooth for €4.75m last June.
Comer Bros paid 2.65m for a 383ac residential farm at Clonkeen, Carbury in Co Kildare
JP McManus has also been in the market and his purchases included €30m for Adare Manor hotel and golf course

As the 2015 auction season comes to a close it is clear that the dominant buyers in the land market are big hitters from outside the farming sector.

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With the end of milk quotas there was huge expectation that dairy farmers would buy farms, large and small, up and down the country.

And while there was an initial flurry of land purchase by dairy farmers, the most active purchasers have been the horsey set.

In the past year, most of the larger farms to come on the market in Leinster and Munster have been bought by the big equestrian players.

Among the more prolific spenders and accumulators are the Comer brothers, Luke and Brian, from Glenamaddy, Co Galway who have spent in excess of €22m in late 2014 and 2015, and bought more than 1,500ac of land, all for horses.

The brothers who started their working lives as plasterers have built up a massive international property portfolio and are becoming major players in the Irish land market, especially the equine market.

Among their purchases is Courtown Demesne at Kilcock, a 400ac estate with a Georgian mansion that sold for €10.2 million, the unfinished Kiltiernan Country Club and Hotel on 400ac that cost them €7m.

Another property they added to their portfolio is Ginnets Park near Trim in Co Meath, a 410ac residential Georgian stud farm that sold at auction in 2014 for €2.21m.

In recent months they paid €2.65m for a 383ac beef farm at Clonkeen, Carbury in Kildare, a holding they intend converting to a stud farm.

JP McManus has also been active in the market and last year was associated with the €4.3m purchase of St Edmundsbury, a 274ac farm at Lucan near Luttrellstown Castle, a hotel and estate he jointly owns with the Magniers of Coolmore. Indeed JP also laid hands on a prized Limerick property, Adare Manor, paying €30m for the luxury hotel, its extensive grounds and golf course.

John Magnier's Coolmore operation continues to buy land and in June of this year bought Ravensdale House on 223ac near Maynooth for €4.75m.

In September another well-know horseman, John O'Callaghan of Tally Ho Stud in Co Westmeath - a brother-in-law of John Magnier - bought Claremont farm on 383ac at Milltownpass, Co Westmeath, paying €3.5m for the deal.

While Coolmore and its associated farms are buying land for equine use, they are also buying land for other farming purposes and according to Clonmel auctioneer, John Stokes, the renowned stud farm has a huge tillage portfolio.

'Huge appetite'

"There is no doubt but they have a huge appetite for land and they are continuing to buy," Mr Stokes said.

In the last few weeks the Magnier empire added an 86.07ac residential farm at Rathcormack in Co Cork to its portfolio.

They are reported to have paid €1.7m or €19,800/ac for the property, a prime roadside tillage farm in two distinct lots of 39.7ac and 45.3ac with a modern bungalow extending to almost €2,960sqft. The location of the farm within the development boundary of the village gives it added 'hope value.'

Stephen Barry of Raymond Potterton auctioneers believes that equestrian buyers are active in the Irish market for obvious reasons. "We have the ideal climate, the ideal soil type for horses. It is an accident of longitude and latitude," he said.

"When you look at the Comer brothers they have always had the capacity to buy the right thing at the right time. Indeed all the big buyers in the Irish land market are highly successful people who make few mistakes."

However, Paddy Jordan of Jordan auctioneers says that the equestrian buyers are not necessarily buying land for bloodstock and their level of spending is not necessarily a vote of confidence in the Irish horse industry. Instead, he believes these buyers view land as a secure investment.

"It's a reliable long-term haven for their money. The return is very low but the value of the asset will not decline, it will be there when you look out at it in the morning, not like stocks and shares," he said.

Savills' Pat O'Hagan says the equestrian sector is active in the property market because they have the money and they are buying into what they know.

"Many of these people are making a lot of tax free money on stallions. I have never seen so much money in racing than I do now," said Mr O'Hagan.

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