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Debt-ridden developer retreats to country pile

'WHO are ye? What are ye doin' taking pictures of that house? Ye can't be takin' pictures of that house. Yis aren't allowed."

From the way the man had just careered across the dividing line of Longford-Dublin road in his mud-splattered 4x4 jeep to put his questions, it was pretty clear our curiosity about Roscommon developer Alan Hanly's new home was unwelcome.

"And who exactly are you?" we inquired of the farmer-tanned stranger as his ruddy complexion slowly turned a deeper shade of beetroot.

"Never mind who I am. Ye can't be takin' pictures," he shot back, all the time rolling his jeep back and forward in a crude, but effective, effort to block us from rejoining the road. "You're blocking our exit. Technically, that's kidnap. I'm calling the guards," I began. My colleague joined in, adding: "Do you realise that under Section 23 of the . . ."

While the man in the mud-splattered jeep hadn't appeared to care about my patently absurd kidnapping allegation, his demeanour changed now there was talk of 'Sections' with what appeared to be a certain level of authority. Nosy reporters or somebody more important? He didn't wait to find out.

Muttering a less-than-polite farewell under his breath, he put his boot to the floor and was gone.

But not before he had handed over the questioning to another character who pulled up in a pick-up truck -- a man who for the purposes of this article we will call "good cop", given his more conciliatory approach to the small spot of bother outside Boss Hanly's mansion.

Good cop was something of a breath of fresh country air. From the get go, it was clear he didn't want any fuss from the lads from Dublin as he stood on the side of the road with his thumbs hooked in the front pockets of his well-worn jeans looking apologetic more than anything else.

Asked who he was, and more to the point who the self-appointed Sheriff of Strokestown before him was, good cop threw his hands up, saying: "Don't involve me in this." Agitated by all the fuss, he reached for the pack of Samson tobacco in his pocket and set about rolling a reed-thin cigarillo, repeating: "Don't get me involved. But you can't be taking pictures of that house."

While the Sunday Independent has been told that neither of the men who objected to our photographing of Alan Hanly's new home was acting on the developer's instruction, the publication today of the details of the 10,200 sq ft mansion could not have come at a more sensitive time for him.

Only last Thursday, Mr Hanly's construction company, Laragan Developments, inched closer to liquidation as Mr Justice Frank Clarke refused to approve a scheme put together by its examiner to save it.

Announcing his decision, Mr Justice Clarke expressed his concern about the relationship between Laragan and Mr Hanly of the Hanly Group, and raised the possibility that Laragan was acting as a "vehicle of convenience for Mr Hanly". But as painful as the collapse of the company may prove to be for Alan Hanly personally, the pain already being felt by Laragan's 157 creditors is arguably far more acute. Among the greatest losers are the 95 homebuyers who, at the height of the housing boom, put down deposits of €15,000 and €20,000 apiece to secure apartments built by Laragan Developments in Milners Square and Carrickmines Green in Dublin.

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Among the examiner's proposals rejected by the High Court last Thursday was an offer to refund one cent in the euro of those deposits -- a sum equivalent to €150 or €200 depending on the amount paid.

Unsurprisingly, the offer provoked both anger and upset, with one prospective apartment buyer even breaking down in tears in an earlier court appearance as she told the judge how she stood to lose her life savings as a result of the company's collapse. Not that the difficulties being experienced by Laragan Developments in Dublin are registering as much as one might expect on Alan Hanly's life in Strokestown, Co Roscommon.

As the Sunday Independent discovered last week, work continues apace at the developer's new family home on a 53-acre site he owns just outside Strokestown; while in the nearby town of Mohill, the Hanly Group's Lough Rynn Estate Hotel continues to do a brisk trade with tourists. According to informed local sources, the developers' work on the historic ancestral home of the Earls of Leitrim will come to an end soon with the completion of its Nick Faldo-designed golf course.

Despite experiencing financial problems with Laragan Developments in Dublin, the Hanly Group is believed to have secured adequate financing from the banks to finish out the course.

Presently, the championship course is understood to be 75 per cent complete.

And as our pictures -- which are sure to upset Laragan's numerous creditors -- show, work on Alan Hanly's palatial home in Strokestown goes on. According to the planning files held at Roscommon County Council, Mr Hanly lodged his initial application for the mock-Georgian mansion in June 2005.

Such is the extent of the sprawling development, the planning files record the receipt of a €90,000 development levy to the council.

In the application letter sent by Mr Hanly's planning consultants, the house is described as both a "substantial dwelling set within an expansive landscaped area" and a "secluded rural residence". The letter adds how the proposed house "will, for the most part, not be visible from the road."

Try telling that to anyone living in Strokestown, a place where judging by the Hanly Group trucks that seem to be rounding every corner one almost has the feeling of having entered a rural fiefdom.

Not that any of the locals reach for their forelock at the mention of Alan Hanly's name. Indeed, we stumbled upon Mr Hanly's nouveau riche pile when asking the residents of Strokestown for directions to his existing home. "Which one are you looking for? There's two of them, you know. The one he's in down by the Hanly quarry, and the other one he's getting built out on the way out to Longford," came the response from the most helpful of the locals we found along the highways and byways of Roscommon. Asked how we would identify the new house, the man, who up to now had been busy lopping branches off a roadside hedge with a chainsaw, added in deadpan fashion: "You won't miss it. Sure you'd see it from space."

Space of another kind, according to Mr Hanly's planning consultants, is the reason he is building the massive house in the first place.

"Their existing home no longer meets the Hanly family's requirements in terms of size or facilities, and they wish to build a modern new home," the application states.

In its decision to grant permission for the house, Roscommon County Council's planners appear to recognise all the Hanly family's requirements, note the house's 10,000 square feet of living space, its "ornate finishes, cut limestone quoins, reveals, cills and balustrades" as well as its "gothic-type columns with very elaborate detailing".

That Mr Hanly deserves to live in a well-appointed home could hardly be called into question given his planning consultants' description of his contribution to Roscommon, and to the Strokestown economy in particular.

In their application, they write: "Mr Hanly and his family are key players in the local rural economy, with their family businesses employing 300 persons and active members of the rural community.

"He needs to live in close proximity to his place of work. It is the council's policy to support the rural economy, and as a corollary, it must be the council's policy to facilitate one of the area's significant employers in living close to his business."

And far enough away, one presumes, from the poor unfortunates who put down deposits on Laragan's apartments in Milner's Square and Carrickmines Green in Dublin.

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