A SOUTH African-born hotelier – who once beat efforts by US authorities to extradite her from Britain on tax charges – has bought Ashford Castle, with plans to carry out an extensive refurbishment programme.
New buyer Red Carnation Hotels is hoping to complete the takeover of the famous hotel in Cong, Co Mayo, within weeks and is already planning a refurbishment that will restore it to its "former glory".
Managing director Jonathan Raggett said the sale would secure 160 jobs in Mayo.
The five-star hotel is regarded as the jewel in the crown of Irish hospitality, and it had been on the market with a price tag of €25m after going into receivership back in 2011.
Ashford Castle last changed hands in 2007 when developer Gerry Barrett bought the property for €50m but receivers from Ernst & Young were appointed by lenders just four years later. The castle has been on the market since and the sale will be greeted with huge relief in Cong where it ends any uncertainty about its future.
UK-based Red Carnation runs a string of luxury four and five-star hotels in Britain, the United States, Switzerland and South Africa.
Controversially, its founder and president Beatrice Tollman was at the centre of a long-running extradition case in the English High Court that ended in 2007 when US authorities failed in their bid to have the hotelier, then in her 70s, forcibly sent to America to answer multi-million-dollar tax fraud charges. Mrs Tollman and her husband later settled their affairs with the US authorities.
Last year, she was voted Hotelier of the Year at the European Hospitality Awards.
Guests at the Mayo hotel have included movie icons John Wayne, who made 'The Quiet Man' nearby, as well as Grace Kelly, Pierce Brosnan and Brad Pitt. The former Guinness family home has also hosted the likes of England's King George V, US President Ronald Reagan and Beatles star John Lennon.
Tom Barrett of Savils auctioneers, who handled the sale, said it was "a strong vote of confidence in the future of the industry. Ashford Castle is the jewel in the crown of Irish hospitality."
Previous owners of the hotel include Tony O'Reilly and US philanthropist Chuck Feeney and former US ambassador to Ireland, Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, who owned it from 1985 until 2007. The Irish-American heavy hitters also owned Dromoland Castle in Co Clare and ran the two as sister hotels.
Ashford has been run as a standalone hotel since the sale to Gerry Barrett in 2007.