Friday 23 March 2018

My favourite room: House built on loyalty

When insurer Tim Duggan finally built his dream house, he tells Mary O'Sullivan, his horse made a large contribution towards the landscaping cost. Photography by Tony Gavin

Mary O'Sullivan

Mary O'Sullivan

Limerick insurance broker Tim Duggan has the aura of a happy man with a lot of loves in his life. As well as his wife Hilary and three children, he seems to be well content with his home, his many friends, his business and his sport.

Of course, those sports include rugby -- isn't Limerick the home of Thomond Park, the base of the Munster Rugby team? However, horses and horse racing hold a very special place in Tim's heart. And that's not just because his winnings on Strangely Brown, one of the horses he co-owns, helped to pay for the superb landscaping of the expansive grounds around his home -- which include a tennis court -- though Tim would say that was nice too. He prizes his involvement with horses because of the sheer fun of the sport, the links with family and friends that co-ownership brings, and the bond with his late father, Timothy Duggan Sr, who was also something of a horse-racing fanatic.

As Tim tells it, his mother wasn't initially too enamoured of his dad's interest in ownership: "I was about 11, and he went off and bought his own horse. What happened was, he brought me to see this horse which was paraded in front of us. I asked who owned it, and one of the men there said, 'That's your Dad's.' When Dad heard that, he warned, 'Don't tell your mother.'" In fairness to Tim, he didn't say a word, but she still found out. "Mum brought us to the races and afterwards she went to get us chips. Marcello, the man in the chipper, told her her horse was running that day. 'We don't have a horse,' she said," Tim recalls with a laugh. "He produced the paper showing Dad's name alongside that of a horse." Tim's dad was in Souths, the well-known local, having lunch. She went there and confronted him. "Luckily, the horse had actually won, which helped," Tim chuckles.

Interestingly, the horse was called Renta Row, but, perhaps more interesting to Tim's mother was the fact that it went on to win 12 races, and so earned its keep. In memory of his father, Tim and his brothers sponsor the feature race, The Tim Duggan Memorial, every Christmas at the Limerick races.

Racing isn't Tim's only link to his late father. Like Tim, Tim Sr was an insurance broker -- in fact he introduced his son to the business. "I went to boarding school in Castleknock, and did the Leaving in 1984," Tim recalls. "We had a summer house in Lahinch, and I was down there when Dad handed me a letter for a two-year contract with Hibernian Insurance. The boss was a good friend of Dad's."

Many sons would rebel against this type of parental interference in their career paths: not Tim. He had done summer work in the business, and knew he'd like it. "I went up to Dublin and had two years of fun there, working and playing rugby in Lansdowne. After that, I came home and worked with Dad. When his business was taken over in 1988 I went in with the new owners."

Tim stayed on with the new company, MacDonagh Boland Cullen Duggan Ltd, for 13 years and, when he decided to quit and start his own business, his bosses worked out a fantastic deal for him. "The company were very good to me," he says. "They gave me business to take with me, a portfolio of clients."

That was in 2002, and while, like everyone else, Tim has been affected by the downturn, he considers himself lucky that he never did business with builders and contractors. "My area is more insurance for medium-to-large businesses, pubs, shops on the commercial side, and the bigger house," he says. Houses much like his own, which he and Hilary built five years ago. The couple had met in the early Nineties at the Rose Ball. "1992, I think it was," he says. "I'm brilliant at business dates, hopeless at any other kind. A pal and I brought two girls; Hilary was at a table of girls." Tim is coy about the minutiae, but he and Hilary ended up together. They married in 1997 and have three children: sons Timothy, 9, and Jamie, 7, and a toddler daughter, Jill, 2. Hilary works part-time with the Permanent TSB. Their current home is their second house together. The first was a three-bed semi-d off the South Circular Road where they lived until Jamie was born; then it was time to move.

Tim had always wanted a site in Ballyclough -- it's very near the city centre, yet there's a rural feel to the area. It's where the golf club is -- Tim Sr was a member, Tim spent his summers there and both he and Hilary are now keen players. The area was zoned green belt and it was hard to get planning permission, but, finally, they got the right site, got the permission and they were able to get going on the build. Tim already had top Limerick architect David Leahy lined up. "We were friends growing up," he says. "We hunted together, were in the pony club and that kind of thing, and I always said, 'Dave, you'll design my house,'" Tim says. "I had no interest in going to anyone else; loyalty is a very big thing with me. I'd be very loyal to clients. And I was very comfortable with Dave doing it."

Ironically, Hilary wasn't too enamoured of the design to begin with: she cried for two days. "It was a real shock for me; I had never had a client who cried," David reports. However, she soon came round and said "don't change a thing", totally committed herself to it and now she really loves it. What's not to love? It's a stylish house on its own grounds with many special features. There's the subtle arts-and-crafts look of the exterior, the higher-than-usual spacious hall, the curved staircase, the mezzanine overlooking the dining area and the extra-large double doors leading from one room to the other, imbuing the ground floor with a real sense of gracious living.

It's a big house with big rooms -- each of the four bedrooms has its own dressing room, two have en suites. The bedroom level is also home to the utility room complete with a laundry -- a clever idea of Hilary's. The large living and dining room is an ideal space for a party, and the dining table can seat 16. "We like doing dinner parties; we do a big one about four times a year. It's not the food, it's the crack," says Tim. The pretty, light-filled kitchen is enormous, and it's furnished in white hardwood units, designed by Hilary and Jim Brown "an old client" of Tim's who made them. Where possible, Tim used the services of clients and friends. As well as David and Jim, he put business the way of Mark McMahon of Livingstone, "an old client, an old friend", who provided the marble mantelpiece in the living room, while another client, John Mullins, did the curved Liscannor wall which is in Tim's back garden.

The only room that isn't big is the TV room-cum-den, but then that's the kind of room that lends itself to a more cosy, relaxed feel. And it's here that Tim gives free rein to his passion for racing: photos of the horses he has been involved with over the years hang on the walls, mostly in their moments of triumph. These include Alabama Banjo, Pearl's A Singer and the redoubtable Strangely Brown who paid for a large part of the garden.

"That's the great thing about a syndicate. He cost €24,000. There were eight of us, so we paid €3,000 each. He won €400,000 in prize money. The prize was one thing, gambling on him was another. I backed him at something like 12/1," Tim says, glowing with pride.

Well, that would add to your happiness.

Email: David H. Leahy Architects, see

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