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Saturday 10 December 2016

Trappings of wealth were never far from view

Donal O'Donovan and Emmet Oliver

Published 21/04/2011 | 05:00

THEIR vast and public wealth and associations with glamour make the Mansfield family the closest Ireland ever came to having its own 'Dallas' or 'Dynasty'. Everything had to the best, or at least the biggest.

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Jim Snr is a self-made multi millionaire with all the trappings that go along with that.

Last night with NAMA moving and his empire in tatters he was still working, despite ill-health and the business debts that have washed away so many of his achievements.

Mr Mansfield's personal wealth was estimated at €420m back in 2007, before the crash. It funded a lavish lifestyle with a mansion at Tassagart for himself and his wife, their Rolls Royce car, and a helicopter often conspicuously parked at the front of the Citywest hotel.

Their sons' love lives provided tabloid tittle-tattle, featuring top Irish models and brushes with controversy.

In true clan style the bulk of the family's interests were fiercely local -- key businesses and the family seat are packed into a narrow strip of land on the Dublin and Kildare border.

At the same time as their wealth launched the Mansfield boys into a world of glamorous women and fast cars, the family was on first-name terms with their most humble trade suppliers. All three sons worked in the businesses.

It all happened because Jim Mansfield transformed hauling scrap metal into gold-plated luxury businesses. He started out in the unglamorous businesses of haulage and plant hire but in characteristic style his dealmaking even there was epic.

Falklands

In the 1980s his greatest coup was shifting land-moving equipment left by the British on the Falklands after Mrs Thatcher's great imperial adventure to the US and UK for sale -- a massive undertaking that turned him £26m.

Such deals financed his purchase of what became Citywest in 1990 and in characteristic style it developed into the biggest hotel in the country. The scale came at a price and Citywest collapsed with a staggering €192m of debt.

Citywest was followed by the Palmerstown House. Once home to earls, it was bought for €10m and Mr Mansfield brought in Christy O'Connor Jnr to design the PGA-approved golf course and furnished the clubhouse in ostentatious style.

He paid €10m for Weston Aerodrome, a small airfield outside Dublin, and upgraded it as an executive gateway into Ireland.

Weston proved controversial when planning for the upgrade was only sought after the work had commenced.

There was worse to come when a Mansfield-owned plane bound for the aerodrome was found with heroin on board in Belgium. The plane had been rented out to a third party and Mansfield was left shocked by the news.

Planning issues have dogged the Citywest site too. A vast convention centre was delayed for a year pending planning permission, despite being half built.

Even now the receivers tasked with selling Citywest for Bank of Scotland face an uphill struggle to find a buyer willing to take on the site's numerous legacy planning issues.

Citywest hosted a lavish Ryder Cup dinner in 2006, despite not hosting the event itself. Fine Gael and Fianna Fail were happy to use the 4,000- capacity convention centre for their ard fheiseanna.

The trophy businesses are now gone and the lifestyle is up for grabs though, thanks to personal guarantees given for bank loans now held by NAMA. If NAMA cannot recover the value of the loans it can, in time move against Jim Mansfield Snr's personal assets.

Transferring the Tassagart House mansion into Anne Mansfield's name late last year was too little too late to keep the property out of NAMA's reach.

It means that, along with the other tycoons brought down by the property crash, the Mansfields face starting all over again if they have ambitions to keep chasing the high life.

Irish Independent

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