Monday 27 February 2017

Guinness: 'We turned down offer of €10m at height of the boom'

Patrick Guinness takes a Buddhist approach to life as his belongings are sold around him, writes Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

Patrick Guinness with his wife Liz at their home Furness House in Johnstown, Co. Kidare
Patrick Guinness with his wife Liz at their home Furness House in Johnstown, Co. Kidare

Patrick Guinness is in the bad books.He has just come from RTE where he made a genuine attempt at humour, only to come under fire from the PC brigade.

His tongue-in-cheek remarks - that he could fill the 15 bedroom family home he is attempting to sell with Syrian refugees "preferably female aged between 20 and 30" - caused outrage and were promptly censored by RTE.

Speaking about the uproar, he says the 'Valley of the Squinting Windows' - made famous in a novel by Brinsley MacNamara - still continues in modern Ireland, but now it plays out on social media.

"There is a general resentment in Ireland towards successful people, like Ryan Tubridy, just because they are successful. I think when people are unhappy with their own lives, they will always lash out at an identifiable icon. Even if they don't know them, they will always have a go."

Explaining his comments, he says: "There was a practical aspect to it. Because when you read about all the people in the boats they are all young men.

"They are tougher, they have get up and go, mummy and daddy will pay for their son to go but they don't want their daughter to be in a strange place with strange people.

"When I was saying in jest in terms of having the house full of refugees - imagine if you had a lot of men from Africa or the Middle East, all wanting something, all with egos, probably mummies and daddies' darlings, they have gone through hell and now they want to get back up there again - that would be quite a difficult task. So that is why I said what I said," he explains.

A lawyer by training and a financial analyst by profession, Mr Guinness is a member of one of Ireland's best-known families.

He is a direct descendant of Arthur Guinness, the 18th-century brewer whose beer went on to become an Irish icon.

He and his wife Louise are in the midst of selling their home - Furness House in Co Kildare, with an asking price of €2.5m - along with the majority of their belongings.

The home is an extravagant 1,400-square-meter property with 30 rooms, including 15 bedrooms and seven bathrooms.

Nestled in 13.5 hectares of land, it features a ruined medieval church, an 800-year-old yew tree, and Ireland's largest croquet lawn.

Around him are tags on almost every item in the house.

Auctioneers have been working there for the last few months selling off the family's heirlooms to the highest bidder before the house itself is finally sold.

While that would paint the scene for most people's worst fears, Patrick is taking a philosophical approach.

"You own things. They don't own you. If you have something that you would never sell or give away then you're admitting it has a hold on you.

"I'm more attached to people than things," he says referring to the Buddhist teaching that attachment is the root of all suffering.

His attitude to life has changed since a health scare in 2006 when he suffered a heart fibrillation.

Today he reveals that two years earlier he had turned down several million more than the current asking price for the property.

"At the height of it we had offers ranging from €7m to €10m. We thought we would see how things went. Then suddenly in 2010 there was no market for a house like this."

Now on the market for €2.5m, the money that the couple receive from the sale will go into a trust belonging to the Guinness family, before it is eventually divided among the beneficiaries.

Patrick insists he has no regrets over waiting for a better time to sell, and is resolute that a boom-time price simply wasn't meant to be: "You make a decision because it's the right decision at the time and you don't ever know what's going to happen tomorrow."

After the sale he plans to travel the world with his wife, visiting Guinness relatives along the way.

In previous interviews he had stated that the family are down-sizing to a smaller home, but the word is they will return to settle in the sprawling surrounds of Leixlip Castle.

He has a placid, calm manner as he walks the grounds of Furness House.

He tells an amusing story of how they lent an ornate clock, which stands in his hallway, to former Taoiseach Bertie Aherne for his office in Leinster House in the hope that he would eventually buy it.

The deal was scuppered however when the Drumcondra man discovered the antique chimed out the tune of 'God Save the King'.

Despite his wealthy upbringing, he says he is among the first generation of Guinnesses who wanted to work rather than live off his inheritance.

He also spends his time working for the Iveagh Trust charity in Dublin, which supplies one eighth of the social housing in the capital.

"One man came into us after his children convinced him to sign over his home at the height of the boom for 'tax purposes'. They left him with nothing.

"The stories you hear put everything in perspective," he says.

He was renowned for hosting parties in his home where "most of Naas were invited".

He has also played host to a number of high-profile names over the years, including actor John Hurt, who stayed there whilst seeking solace during the break-down of his marriage.

The moment he knew that the market was over-heating came during a visit by a local builder he had tasked with painting his home.

"Paint? Why would you paint it? Would you not cover the walls in marble?" he suggested, urging Patrick to refurbish his home in the style of luxury Mediterranean homes.

"That's when I knew that something wasn't right," says Patrick.

The builder clad his house out with marble walls. "I don't know what happened to him since," he says.

"Round here we had a constant stream of helicopters overhead.

"One of the cliches in the financial world is that when a client arrives in a helicopter it gives the impression that he's a man in a hurry, and therefore the price of things goes up simply because he is in a hurry.

"So in my book the man in the helicopter is making a big mistake. And all we could see during the boom was a constant stream of helicopters flying over."

As auctioneers hurry around him shifting the last of the pieces and showing the house to viewers, Patrick muses: "The one lesson I learned was that the experts, the men in suits - and remember I was one of those men in suits myself [working in the banking sector], - all of them in the shiny buildings, the limos, in they end, they didn't know a thing."

Sunday Independent

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