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Tuesday 24 October 2017

Valentine story for ex-CAB client

Family of the elderly Protestant widow 'shocked' over her decision to marry 52-year-old Dawnay

Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

A FORMER client of the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) has raised eyebrows in a sleepy Wicklow village by marrying an elderly Protestant widow and long-standing local landowner.

Michael Dawnay, a 52-year-old Dubliner who reached a €500,000 settlement with the CAB several years ago, married Doris Valentine, the owner of Newcastle Lodge, a fine Georgian house on 80 acres, in a registry office in the North last July.

While the marriage has brought Mrs Valentine, who is in her 70s, a welcome companion late in life, the union has caused a stir in the village where her family has lived since the beginning of the last century.

And it has not helped smooth over the already strained relations between Mrs Valentine and her two adult children, Hugh and Lesley, who have witnessed her new husband installed in what was once their family home.

The inevitable family fall-out has only heightened local curiosity about the Dubliner, who took many by surprise when he married the elderly Mrs Valentine, following a respectable engagement.

Mr Dawnay's past might be history at this stage but it hasn't helped to endear him to the burghers of Newcastle where he has lived, by and large, since 1995 as a neighbour of Mrs Valentine.

These days Mr Dawnay runs a tree-felling business and describes himself as a farmer, but during the 1990s, his interests included a dalliance with illegal animal-growth promoters.

He unwittingly attracted the attentions of gardai when he walked into a pub in the village of Horse and Jockey in Co Tipperary in 1992.

The man he was there to meet was being watched by detectives investigating the illicit "angel dust" trade.

Detectives searched Mr Dawnay's van and found boxes of illegal growth promoters in the back.

During his trial at Nenagh District Court in 1997, the court heard that he had a couple of minor convictions dating back to the Eighties -- for larceny and malicious damage -- and that he was married and in a second relationship with young children. Mr Dawnay was convicted but later successfully appealed.

But that was not the end of the matter. The CAB issued legal proceedings against Mr Dawnay in 2000.

The agency sought €750,000, which it claimed was the proceeds of his alleged involvement in the trade in illegal growth promoters between 1990 and 1999. The case settled a couple of years later, with Mr Dawnay paying in the region €500,000.

Mr Dawnay later attributed his financial difficulties to an "acrimonious" split with his then girlfriend, as well as the substantial settlement with CAB.

The details are outlined in a letter, contained in Wicklow County Council's planning files, submitted by his solicitor as part of an application to build a three-bedroom bungalow and a garage on a plot of land he had bought in the village.

At the time of his fiscal upset, Mr Dawnay lived in a cottage that he had bought in 1995 and that adjoined the Valentine farm that. He shared it with his then girlfriend.

When the relationship broke down "acrimoniously", he had to buy out his girlfriend's share of the property. As a result, he was under "severe financial pressure" and transferred the cottage to a limited company "to stay off creditors until he was in a stronger financial position".

He continued to live there, however, and eventually was in a position to acquire it back in 2004.

A year later -- in October 2005 -- he sold it "under financial pressure" and moved to France, where he worked on an agricultural farm for the purpose of "gathering money together".

Before he left, he bought a plot of land "at a small consideration" so that he could continue his agricultural contracting business.

The only way he could continue to live in the area was to buy land and seek planning permission on it, the letter said.

"You will see from the above that our client's financial circumstances are poor and he is seeking to remain in the area."

The letter was dated September 2009 but it made no mention of Mr Dawnay's marriage to one of Newcastle's longstanding residents, Doris Valentine, just two months earlier. Their romance apparently blossomed when Mr Dawnay returned from his stint in France with his heart set on settling in Newcastle.

Few villagers appeared to be aware of the deepening friendship between Mrs Valentine and Mr Dawnay.

At that time, Mrs Valentine, who was widowed, had leased her farmland to tenants. She had been living in a cottage on the property while her daughter and her family occupied the lodge.

But in October 2007 she bought a house with Michael Dawnay in the seaside town of Bray and sold the cottage on the estate. Within two years they were engaged and married in July last year in a registry office across the border in Newry. They honeymooned in Co Wexford.

Hugh Valentine, who admits to having a strained relationship with his mother, heard the news after the event.

He claimed she had "hinted a couple of times that they were more than good friends".

When he first heard about his mother's engagement, he said he was inclined to believe that they wouldn't go through with it.

He said he was "shocked" when she eventually told him that they had.

All of this occurred against a background of acrimony. Mrs Valentine wanted to move back to her farm with her new husband but couldn't do so immediately as her daughter was living in the lodge with her family, and her son, Hugh, was farming some of the land.

Mr Dawnay, meanwhile, was seeking planning permission to build a bungalow on his site, submitting his most recent application in February this year.

By March, however, an agreement was reached. Newcastle Lodge was vacated and Mrs Valentine and her new husband are now in situ.

Mr Dawnay has withdrawn his planning application to build a bungalow.

But Wicklow County Council has taken exception to the large wooden shed, mobile home and storage container on the site and has issued an enforcement notice to have them removed

Last month, Mr Dawnay's tree-felling machine was parked in the front yard of his wife's expansive homestead. The neatly cropped hedges and trees were evidence of the latest work he has carried out on the farm.

But Mr Dawnay declined to speak about the reaction to his marriage, saying that he would have to get legal advice.

He later contacted the Sunday Independent to point out that he owns more property than Doris Valentine, and has done for years. And if he dies, it will all go to her.

Sunday Independent

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