Friday 24 November 2017

Gangster Gilligan's derelict 'dream' stuck in a time warp

The run-down Jessbrook showjumping centre built by crime boss John Gilligan and his wife Geraldine (inset) has been in the hands of CAB for 16 years.
The run-down Jessbrook showjumping centre built by crime boss John Gilligan and his wife Geraldine (inset) has been in the hands of CAB for 16 years.
Gilligan’s office
Bird-soiled seats
Abandoned show-jumping fences.
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

IT'S the tranquil countryside setting where crime baron John Gilligan planned to develop his dream show-jumping arena.

He had grandiose plans to create a name for the centre by hosting international showjumping events.

But now Jessbrook Equestrian Centre stands derelict, overgrown and stuck in a bizarre 1990s time warp.

After almost two decades of legal wrangling it has been put on the market for €500,000, in what has been described as a "big day" for the gardai's Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB).

Gilligan and his wife Geraldine had planned to host events at the IR£1.2m complex, which they built between 1994 and 1996.

However, those plans were halted following the murder of Sunday Independent journalist Veronica Guerin by the crime gang Gilligan controlled.

CONVICTED

He was never convicted in relation to her death but is currently serving a 20-year jail sentence for drug trafficking in Portlaoise prison.

Jessbrook was seized more than 16 years ago by the CAB, which only got the go-ahead for the sale last November after a lengthy court battle with Geraldine Gilligan.

Geraldine still lives in a house adjoining the show-jumping arena. The State is trying to seize the house, with litigation ongoing in the Supreme Court.

There was no sign of her yesterday when the Office of Public Works (OPW) and estate agents opened Jessbrook to the media.

A CAB spokesman at the site said: "It's great to see it's gone on the market and hopefully it draws a line in the sand once we can sell it.

"It is a big day for CAB, it's a big day for everybody who's involved in both the investigations and in the litigation that's gone on over the last number of years.

"It's been 16-and-a-half long years," he added.

The property for sale includes the steel-clad arena, complete with more than 3,000 seats and VIP boxes, albeit with no sewage connections, a leaky roof, a scattering of rat poison, and brambles growing through gaps in the walls.

The 5,500sqm space has been used by the OPW as storage in recent years with an array of plastic chairs, examination tables, kitchen equipment and boxes labelled "old files" remaining to be cleared for the sale.

More unusual items stored there included an antique horse-drawn carriage and hearse, said by an OPW official to come from the nearby Castletown House stately home.

Other buildings include stables for 44 horses, a commentary box and viewing platform. Gilligan had an office in one of the stables buildings. And there is also a four-bedroom apartment on the first floor.

The small wood-panelled office was empty apart from a 1996 Bank of Ireland calendar.

A 1994/1995 Golden Pages hangs from a chain beside a phone in the corridor, where horse names including Tufty, Billy, Hector and Betty Boo are written beside stable doors.

The spacious apartment upstairs still had flower-patterned sofas, a 1990s microwave and portable TV, sheets on some of the beds, and the remains of a dead bird in one of the rooms.

Land for sale includes almost 50 acres adjoining the arena, and two further plots of 20 and nine acres respectively.

Estate Agent Barry McDonald dismissed suggestions that the property had been undervalued due to the identity of the previous owner, saying that the €500,000 advised minimum value is "entirely to do with the current market".

"The Criminal Assets Bureau have sold properties in the past without any problems," he said.

"We're expecting good enquiry both locally and from further afield.

"It's obviously just very unique. The first time I saw it I was very impressed with the size of it.

"To develop a building like this now would cost many multiples of the total value of it now."

Irish Independent

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