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Thursday 18 October 2018

Island of Ireland's tragic owner will miss day in the sun

Recession will claim more victims as the mania of good times meets the cold slap of failure, writes Barry Egan

THE phone rang late on Friday night. A friend of property tycoon John O'Dolan rang me to say that the 51-year-old father of three had taken his own life on Friday morning at his house in Rusheen Bay near Salthill in Galway.

It was another personal tragedy, another needless victim of the recession, another tragic waste of life, he said, adding, "just like your mate Patrick Rocca" (who passed away in a similar moment of personal sadness on January 19).

"John was a larger than life character who was so full of life and fun," O'Dolan's friend went on. "He was a very generous spirit. He was so lively and so much fun to be around."

One of Ireland's leading building developers, as the Irish Times referred to him yesterday, John O'Dolan was certainly that. In every picture of him, he is either laughing or smiling (like when he presented a bowl of shamrock to Hamza Mustafa at the launch of the Island of Ireland Dubai development, which O'Dolan bought for €28m). And during the Celtic Tiger years he had plenty of reason to smile.

In 2004, he paid almost €9m for the former Revenue Commissioners offices on Lord Edward Street in Dublin. Yet his business Dolan International was very much an international empire. In 2007 he and his business partners bought the man-made Island of Ireland -- and then, only last year, he paid €24m for the Island of England in the same project.

"I admire the vision that is behind this project. The islands are truly spectacular," John said in March 2007, "and we look forward to developing Ireland, which will provide the Irish homeowner with their very own place they can call home in the sun."

Tragically, John won't be around to have his day in the sun with his wife, Eileen, and his children, Fiona, Roisin and Robert.

Some say -- though who can truly know -- that John was depressed and despondent over his faltering finances (the receiver was allegedly appointed to two of his business interests, the Kinlay House Hostel and property sales firm Polska Property).

What John's situation with the banks was, I wouldn't hazard a guess. The aggressive nature of this country's financial institutions with regard to the people they loaned money to in the good times is worth commenting on here.

"I am not saying all banks, but definitely some of the banks are being overly aggressive and unfairly so in certain instances. They have looked after only a select few," Gerald Kean told me yesterday.

"From my experience, there have many cases in recent times where certain banks have put undue and frankly unnecessary pressure on customers in relation to their loan facilities. Some of their practices beggar belief. "

"In my opinion," Kean went on, "certain banks freely encouraged greed to come knocking on their door and welcomed business people in with open arms and now look at the consequences. You have to give credit to institutions like Ulster Bank, who are working to help people. But some of the other banks leave me speechless in that they appear to be working against their customers not with them."

In truth, nobody will ever know with any certainty the real reason why this gregarious, lovely man John O'Dolan decided to take his own life on Friday morning. There is a lot of speculation linking his death to the recession, but at the end of the day we can only guess the degree of loneliness and overwhelming desperation that John felt to leave his family and wife behind in this tragic way.

You begin to wonder about the disconnect that has happened in Ireland during the recession. What happens to the people who saw themselves in the context of the enormous success they achieved when that success goes? Did they forget the sum total of who they were wasn't just their success

And did the Celtic Tiger so distort our self image as a nation that we no longer saw or valued defining aspects other than success? Did it leave our resilience fatally weakened to the extent that we are left especially vulnerable?

Whatever the answers, I sadly doubt that John O'Dolan will be the last victim of the recession.

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