Further legal woes for the power couple behind Lissadell House
ACC Bank has taken a case against the barristers seeking repayment of a loan, writes Philip Ryan
Published 03/03/2013 | 05:00
THE high-profile barristers locked in a courtroom battle with Sligo County Council over rights of way on the grounds of the historic Lissadell House are facing further legal woes due to a failed hotel investment.
Constance Cassidy and Eddie Walsh are anxiously awaiting the outcome of a Supreme Court appeal against a decision by High Court Judge Bryan McMahon that a number of roads through their country estate in Sligo should be recognised as public rights of way.
Losing the appeal could leave the law library power couple, who reportedly invested almost €12.5m into the former home of Countess Markievicz, facing massive legal costs in excess of €6m.
Now adding to their legal worries is another case making its way through the courts just as the Supreme Court reserved judgement two weeks ago ahead of a decision on Lissadell House which is due later this year.
ACC Bank has taken a case against the Walsh-Cassidys and 14 other investors seeking repayment of a multimillion euro loan linked to the development of the Heritage Hotel in Portlaoise, Laois.
The plush midlands hotel was developed and run by local developer Tom Keane, who is also listed as a defendant in ACC Bank's action.
Mr Keane, who also developed the Heritage Golf and Country Club in Killenard, amassed almost €90m debts with the former Anglo Irish Bank and the Commercial Court ordered a summary judgement against the builder two years ago.
In the same year, the 100-room Heritage Hotel in Portlaoise, which employs around 120 staff, was put into receivership by ACC.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent, one of the Heritage Hotel investors confirmed the bank had taken action against investors.
"ACC are the bankers and they are pursuing us in court," the investor said. "It would be a good few million that was put in and I'm sure it was matched by the bank. My end of it would have been relatively small. The only reason I was there was for tax breaks and that's why my accountant got me involved."
The case is set for mention in the High Court in July.
It is unclear how much Ms Cassidy and Mr Walsh invested or stand to lose in the project which is one of a number of business ventures the pair have throughout Ireland and Britain.
The daughter of Judge John and former Senator Eileen Cassidy, Kildare-born barrister Constance had a more than comfortable upbringing in Ballymore Eustace along with her three sisters and three brothers. Two of her sisters, Isobel and Pamela, followed the family tradition by becoming lawyers, while her sister Helen worked as an auctioneer based in the West of Ireland selling castles to wealthy buyers.
The 52-year-old legal professional also has seven children with her 54-year-old husband Eddie who himself comes from a farming family in Co Laois.
The four courts sweethearts with a penchant for historic houses live on the Morristown Lattin estate in Co Kildare – the former home of prominent merchants built in 1692 – which they spent a couple of million buying and renovating in the early Nineties.
According to Land Registry documents, the barristers' significant property portfolio also includes a 40-hectare Kildare site, properties on Bow Street near the old Jameson Distillery in Dublin and two units in the Irishtown Centre in Athlone in 1998.
Ms Cassidy and her sister Isobel, who also helped run Lissadell House, created an AIB mortgage just before Christmas on an apartment they bought in 1998 on Dublin City's upmarket Merrion Street. In Mr Walsh's home town of Laois, Constance and her husband Eddie also acquired land and property during the boom years with sites bought in Middlemont, Knockheel and Rathsaran.
With his father Liam, Mr Walsh was reported to have extensive interests in Rathdowney during the early days of the boom, along with a family business breeding award pedigree bulls. The Laois portfolio included three pubs – Peadar's Inn, Perry's and The Clubhouse and they also leased a shopping centre to Costcutters supermarket chain which was subsequently burnt down.
Elsewhere, the couple have been building up healthy profits through their company Roubaix Limited, which reportedly collects rents from properties they lease in Britain. Most recent accounts show fixed assets worth more than €12m and its profit and loss account recorded a €1.5m surplus for 2011.
Mr Walsh is also the director of Derryclare Aqua Limited which he set up with fellow barrister Ronnie Robins in 2007 to operate "fish hatcheries and fish farms". The company made €59,492 loss in 2011 and company documents listed it as a going concern.
Mr Robins and Mr Walsh set up Inagh Valley R&D Enterprise based in Galway in 2009.
Lissadell House was supposed to be the jewel in the crown of the Walsh-Cassidy property empire when they bought the all but dilapidated 19th-century neo-classic country estate in 2003. The couple spent €9m, all of it out of their own resources, restoring the estate to its previous grandeur and soon it was welcoming 44,000 visitors a year and employing more than 30 staff to upkeep the house and the sprawling gardens.
However, in 2008, Sligo County Council voted to amend the county's development plan to include a provision for public right of way along all roads that run though Lissadell House. The barristers have fought against the decision at a local level and through the courts but tragically the gates to the historic house have remained closed since.
Ms Cassidy said she did not wish to comment on the couple's legal situation at this time.