Monday 22 October 2018

Windswept cottage gave way to hotel's septic tank

Anita Guidera

WHEN engineer-turned-film-maker Neville Presho first set foot on a windswept Tory island, off Donegal's north west coast, in the summer of 1976, he was smitten by its rugged beauty.

His love affair with the island inspired 'Oileán-Island' a sensitive television documentary.

After countless return visits, he bought a holiday home in 1981 on the edge of the Atlantic, for IR£3,000.

The six-bedroomed stone-built house, close to the main pier, commanded sweeping views from Muckish mountain, on the mainland, to Arranmore island.

In 1986, Mr Presho headed for New Zealand. Before leaving, he boarded up the windows securely with oak to protect the house from the unforgiving Atlantic storms.

Two years after he left, fishermen removed the fence from around his house so they could haul their boats onto higher ground during a particularly bad storm.

By December 1992, 'Teach Presho' was a lodging for builders working on a new hotel, being built directly across the road by a returned emigrant Patrick Doohan.

Mr Presho turned down an offer from the island co-operative to buy his house for IR£1,000. He said he would accept IR£7,000, but no such offer was forthcoming.

On January 11, 1993, an asbestos sheet from the porch came off in a storm.

With the rain starting to come in, the builders decided to relocate to a hostel, insisting they removed the electrical fuses as a safety precaution before they left.

At around 4 the following morning, the house burned down, seemingly unseen and unheard by anyone on the island until the following day.

The day after the fire, building contractor John McGinty, who had materials and flammable oils stored at the house, reported it to gardai, believing it to have been malicious.

Over the following months the house gradually came asunder, stone by stone, until only the gables were standing.

When the house finally came down, the rubble was removed from the road by the hotelier -- by order of Donegal County Council -- and the islanders then cleared the site of every last stone.

When Mr Presho returned on July 21, 1994, his house had virtually disappeared. On the site where it once stood was the septic tank for the island's new hotel and an empty space where cars parked.

"It was like a switch went off in my head," he said in court of the moment the island came into view from the ferry and he realised his beautiful house was no more.

Mr Presho was plunged into despair, and embarked on a two-month drinking binge. On his return to New Zealand, that November, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and placed in a secure unit in a residential treatment centre.

Before leaving Tory island that autumn, Mr Presho slept naked on Tor Mór, the island's highest point, and prayed "for forgiveness" for the island.

Mr Presho also attempted to kick-start a garda investigation, but all on Tory (population 130) who were approached by gardai to make statements declined to do so.

Aged 61 and with his personal life in tatters, Mr Presho finally turned to the High Court seeking damages against Patrick Doohan and Óstán Thoraigh Comhlacht Teoranta for ongoing trespass and physical damage.

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