Monday 11 December 2017

Is Johnny coming out to play?

Cycling, golf, gee-gees, art, wine, sailing and a good book. Niamh Horan pays a visit to the playgrounds of the super-rich and famous

Golf: Dermot Desmond pictured with Rory McIlroy
Golf: Dermot Desmond pictured with Rory McIlroy
Wine collecting: Chris de Burgh and his daughter Rosanna Davison
Art: John Magnier bought Sir Joshua Reynolds’s Omai for €15.4m
Sailing and box sets: Michael Smurfit’s yacht, the Lady Ann Magee
JP McManus
Cycling: Johnny Ronan
Books: Patrick Collison
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

Ask Ireland's super-wealthy how much downtime they take and they'll likely say their mind is never off the job.

As economist Robert Frank observes, "building wealth is a creative process for them, and the closest thing they have to fun". Yet even the most financially successful need to unwind and Ireland's 1pc are no exception.

Irish financier Dermot Desmond's philosophy on golf, his favourite pastime, is simple: "There are three joys of golf. How you play, where you play and who you play with - and the first two are overrated. It's really about spending time with friends."

It's no wonder where his emphasis lies given the people who have graced his scorecard. Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson have all played a round with Desmond, who tackles the sport with the single-minded determination of a professional, according to associates. With a handicap cut to eight, he is said to be the "most devoted" to the game among his peers and even had a professional putting green built in his back garden in Ailesbury Road.

Not to be outdone, his friend JP McManus also takes the game pretty seriously having once hired Nick Faldo's coach, David Leadbetter, for a private lesson. But the hobby McManus is now better known for is backgammon following his €15.2m win after a three-day match in 2012.

It is also said that when the shout "the Kid is having a go" - a reference to his nickname 'The Sundance Kid' - is heard in the parade ring, the bookmakers freeze. The Limerick man's greatest knack, as the late great sports journalist Raymond Smith once said, "is his ability to close up shop. He won't chase the game".

Art: John Magnier bought Sir Joshua Reynolds’s Omai for €15.4m
Art: John Magnier bought Sir Joshua Reynolds’s Omai for €15.4m

Away from horse breeding, JP's close friend John Magnier has a penchant for art. Once named among the world's top 10 most active collectors by trade magazine, ARTnews, his most high-profile purchases have included a painting by Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani for €21.6m and Sir Joshua Reynolds's Omai for €15.4m.

And then there are other pastimes which cost next to nothing.

NTR's Tom Roche and businessman Denis O'Brien enjoy cycling, while developer Johnny Ronan and his carbon racing bike have tackled both Mount Ventoux and the Alpe d'Huez, one of the monumental mountain stages of the Tour de France.

When Ronan was at the base of the 10,930ft peak, Sean Kelly, his friend of 25 years, saw the look in his eyes and said: "Tackle it like you'd ate an elephant - one bite at a time."

Wine collecting: Chris de Burgh and his daughter Rosanna Davison
Wine collecting: Chris de Burgh and his daughter Rosanna Davison

When it comes to wine collections, one of Ireland's most valuable is that of singer Chris de Burgh. Having sold some of his private cellar for more than £345,000 at Christie's, London, he was said to have become so attached to some of the bottles over the years he felt it would be "sacrilegious" to drink them.

For Dr Michael Smurfit, his favourite pastime is sailing on the Lady Ann Magee, where he spends half the year. Friends say he is a serious movie buff and devours box sets - his favourites include Downton Abbey and House of Cards. He is an avid reader and "a great historian" with a keen interest in historical autobiographies.

Sailing and box sets: Michael Smurfit’s yacht, the Lady Ann Magee
Sailing and box sets: Michael Smurfit’s yacht, the Lady Ann Magee

Irish property tycoon Stephen Vernon is also a bookworm and, when not conquering Silicon Valley, Patrick Collison can often be found with his head in a book. Sex With Shakespeare and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao are both on his reading list. Christophe Lecuyer's Making Silicon Valley is said to have greatly inspired the billionaire tech whizz-kid.

Sunday Independent

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