Friday 15 November 2019

Aristocrat and famous hotel in court battle over family portraits

Conor O'Brien has been told Dromoland Castle wants to make copies of his ancestral portraits, which hang on the hotel's walls before returning them
Conor O'Brien has been told Dromoland Castle wants to make copies of his ancestral portraits, which hang on the hotel's walls before returning them
The portraits on the hotel's walls

Ray Managh and Colm Kelpie

A ROW has broken out between an aristocrat and a leading hotel over a set of ancestral portraits.

Conor O'Brien, the 18th Baron Inchiquin, wants the return of 37 portraits that have hung in Dromoland Castle, Co Clare, for decades, before and after it became a hotel.

But the High Court heard that Dromoland Castle Holdings Ltd has refused to return them until reproductions are painted.

Mr O'Brien's counsel Frank Callanan said his client had a buyer for the paintings, had demanded their return, and had initiated court proceedings in late July last.

He said the hotel's position was that it would return the paintings after it had copies.

There was nothing in the licence agreement for their retention in the hotel permitting reproduction of them, he said.

Jonathan Newman, counsel for the hotel owners, said that if Mr Callanan succeeded in obtaining a court order for the return of the portraits before they were copied it would be a very serious matter from the hotel's point of view.

Mr Newman said reproductions of some of the paintings had been hanging on the walls of Dromoland Castle for the last 10 years.

The portraits were so old that not even a case for copyright could be made. No copyright had ever existed in the first place, he said.

Mr Callanan said reproduction of the portraits would significantly diminish their value.

Mr Callanan said Mr O'Brien's application had nothing to do with copyright.

He had trusted the defendant with his ancestral portraits and wanted them returned. Dromoland Castle Hotel Holdings had no right to reproduce them, he said.

Mr Justice Daniel O'Keeffe said that he would call the case at today's sitting of the court.

Neither Dromoland Castle Holdings nor Mr O'Brien could be reached for comment by the Irish Independent last night.

The Surrey-born aristocrat has lived and worked many years abroad, with 10 years spent in the Far East, Hong Kong and Singapore.

He ran his own trading company for seven years, working in financial services in Hong Kong before returning to live in Ireland in 1982.


Dromoland Castle was purchased by US citizen Bernard McDonagh from the O'Brien clan for £66,000 in 1963, and in 1987 the hotel was sold to its present owners for just under £3m.

Mr O'Brien and his family run a guesthouse, Thomond House, on the grounds of Dromoland and they continue to farm and run part of the estate as a sporting and leisure estate.

His interests are believed to include skiing, shooting and motor cars.

Two former US presidents, George Bush and Bill Clinton have stayed at the hotel, while Nelson Mandela has also enjoyed the castle's surroundings.

The hotel recorded a pre-tax profit last year after suffering a loss in 2010.

American tourists account for more than 50pc of its business.

Irish Independent

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