Debt-ridden developers shun Ballybrit
Published 01/08/2010 | 05:00
DEBT-RIDDEN developers shunned their annual Galway booze-up as the watchful eye of 'ruthless' bankers loomed over Ballybrit racecourse.
The helipads, champagne tents and plush restaurants were notably bereft of the country's biggest tycoons -- as sources described their fear of being spotted at the lavish celebrations.
"We're avoiding it like the plague this year. It would be financial suicide. The banks have become absolutely ruthless and any morsel of grace they might give you would be out the window if you were pictured there," said one source in the crowd.
Galway-based hotelier John Glynn also gave a stark insight into the current situation. "They're hauling you in every three months, threatening to take possession of properties, putting pressure on you to meet repayments. How the hell could anyone -- myself included -- be seen at the races? You wouldn't even have the mental capacity for it.
"Come autumn, there will be a lot of bloodshed, pain and grief and a lot of people I know are wondering how they're going to deal with it."
He continued: "Several I know have already been put on notice that their interest-only loan facility is going to stop at the end of the summer. So even though they might like nothing better than to switch off and forget about it for one week, they couldn't run the risk of being spotted anywhere near the place."
Over at the helipad, a source at Executive Helicopters said: "I've been working at the Galway races for eight years and I've never seen anything like it. All the usual big guns have stayed away.
"The wealthy developers that were long a staple on our books, I haven't seen one this year."
At the height of the boom, an estimated 300 helicopters trips were taken between the city centre and the racecourse at Ballybrit -- that number dropped two-thirds this year.
"A lot of our business this week has been made up of ordinary guys offering cash on the spot for a ride to or from the course," said one pilot.
Local restaurateur Michael O'Grady, of Kirwan's Lane, also described how the usual big names had stayed away from his popular venue.
"I had one local high-profile builder in on Monday night and he said he was going away on holidays for the week, rather than enjoying his usual shindig at the races.
"The usual big parties held in the penthouse-suites of their hotels have been cancelled too. A completely different type of customer is dominating the festival this year-and they all come from the equestrian world."
Willie Moran, from Moran's Oyster cottage, long the place of choice for the developers such as the Bailey brothers, Bernard McNamara and others, said the regulars were nowhere to be seen.
"I remember at the height of it we counted 28 helicopters lined up in the fields around us. It was like a scene from Apocalypse Now. Now there's perhaps just two or three at any one time.
"The place is packed out again this year, thankfully, we had a 10-month waiting list for tables, but the usual familiar names aren't on the books."
Despite big names staying away, local hotels such as the four-star Lough Rea on the outskirts of Galway city were still relying on average punters to spend big.
As general manager Barry Kilroy explained: "We're all booked out this year, which is sensational given the times that are in it.
"Business is booming this week in comparison to what we had expected and I think it's because a lot of people are using the festival as their annual holiday, rather than going away this year."