Great and greedy have lavish new London lives
Bankruptcy hasn't stopped the developer caste from living in luxury across the water
IT'S true. The rich are different from you and me. Even when they go broke, they do a damn fine job of keeping up appearances.
That's the impression I came away with anyway after taking the short hop to London last week in search of newly-declared bankrupt Bernard McNamara.
While I went there expecting to find the Clare-born developer getting used to bedding down in a cold-water flat or living cheek-by-jowl with the onesie-wearing brigade on some sink estate, nothing had quite prepared me for the abject affluence Mr McNamara is now contending with as he counts down the 12 months between now and freedom from his €1.5bn debts.
Having resided for a decade in a 10,000 sq ft mansion on Dublin's Ailesbury Road where the fixtures and fittings included, amongst other things, a dancefloor and a swimming pool, 'poor' Bernard has been reduced to a paltry 2,000 sq ft terraced three-bed in London's leafy Chiswick.
And while estate agents Savills describe his current abode as "a spectacularly designed new-build townhouse combining state of the art technology and exceptional entertaining space", just how Bernard is coming to terms with the trauma of moving from Dublin 4 to London's W4 is anybody's guess.
I was certainly none the wiser after calling around to Mr McNamara's latest home for which the rent is a mere €7,524 (£6,000) a month. Several calls on the intercom at the house's electronic gate went unanswered while the next-door neighbours said they hadn't noticed his comings or goings in recent days.
Not that this was too surprising. You see, since reverting to his baptismal name of Michael Bernard, Mr McNamara has been clocking up the air miles travelling between London and West Africa in his new role as a construction consultant. When in London, the 62-year-old businessman operates out of serviced offices on Chiswick High Road. While he wasn't around there last Thursday when I called in with a view to ask him the proverbial 'where did it all go wrong' question made famous by the late Georgie Best, his son was manning the fort for his father.
Judging by Michael Jr's presence and the fact that Simcoe Industries -- a company headed up by Bernard's wife, Moira -- had been operating from an adjoining office suite at the Chiswick premises until recently, it would appear to be a case of all hands on deck in the McNamara family these days.
When it comes to being a busy bankrupt though, Bernard McNamara isn't the only fallen Irish tycoon continuing to blaze a trail in the UK capital.
Having failed in my search for the Clare-born developer in the very well-to-do Chiswick, I took a trip over to the even more upmarket Chelsea and the King's Road where another of our bankrupted elite, Landmark chief Paddy Shovlin, now lives in an €8,000-a-month apartment in the concierge-serviced Mathieson House.
Having achieved a fair degree of infamy around south county Dublin for leaving his company's €500m Beacon development unfinished, Mr Shovlin has begun a new round of moving and shaking just a stone's throw from the Chelsea Harbour home of former News International executive and queen of Prime Minister David Cameron's Chipping Norton set Rebekah Brooks. Not bad for a man whose companies have left Nama scrambling to recover several hundred million euro owed to the Irish taxpayer while cleaning up the almighty mess Shovlin and his partners left behind in Sandyford.
Like Bernard McNamara, Mr Shovlin is seeing out his term as a bankrupt by working as a property consultant. Unfortunately, the man famed for his love of racing Ferraris and flying helicopters wasn't around when I called into his offices in the rather ironically-named World's End Studios on Lots Road.
Not that he needs to be behind his desk all the time. Since visiting Mr Shovlin's office (which incidentally is just a 300m walk from his luxurious lodgings), the Sunday Independent has learned that he is back in partnership with his former co-director at Landmark and neighbour from Foxrock, Tony Fitzpatrick. Mr Fitzpatrick was declared bankrupt in the High Court in London on May 28 last.
But as impressive as their survival skills in the face of Ireland's economic Armageddon are, Messrs McNamara, Shovlin and Fitzpatrick don't even come close to Derek Quinlan, the man our great and good once held up as their very own King Midas.
While the music stopped dead for the vast majority of our property titans with the drying up of international credit, Mr Quinlan's ability to win wealthy friends and influence very important people has seen him and his family benefit to the tune of millions of pounds funnelled into the bank account of his wife, Siobhan, by the billionaire Barclay brothers. Nama is apparently powerless to do anything despite the fact that Derek still owes the Irish taxpayer millions of euro personally.
Though Sir Frederick and Sir David for their part insist their support has nothing to do with their efforts to wrest ultimate control of Claridge's and the Berkeley and Connaught Hotels from Belfast-born property investor Paddy McKillen, agreements reached with Mr Quinlan in relation to his shareholding in the Maybourne hotels did see them being accused of unlawful conspiracy with him when it came before the High Court in London earlier this year.
Rejecting that allegation in his witness statement to the court, Sir Frederick Barclay explained his and brother's largesse towards Derek Quinlan and his family, saying: "Helping the Quinlan family in their time of need was something that I will never regret and I would not hesitate to do it again if necessary, regardless of anything to do with Coroin, which is irrelevant to how I feel on this issue."
Hardly surprising then that Derek Quinlan continues to enjoy the lavish lifestyle that so many of his former Irish investors have left behind.
Quite apart from the €16,000-a-month mansion in Putney which he and his family now call home, Mr Quinlan is a regular in a number of Mayfair's most exclusive private members' clubs.
Armed with fresh intelligence from an impeccable source, I set off last Thursday afternoon to check out Harry's Bar on Audley Street and the George private club on Mount Street, two venues where Mr Quinlan is known to take his lunch.
While a phone call to Harry's Bar went unanswered, a helpful member of staff at the George told the Sunday Independent that Mr Quinlan had not been in for lunch that day.
With no sign of the former multimillionaire at either venue, I decided to make my way to Davies Street and to Bourdon House, the former London residence of the Duke of Westminster. These days, it's home to bespoke clothier and outfitter Alfred Dunhills and is another of Mr Quinlan's favoured afternoon retreats.
Quite apart from the made-to-measure tailoring service and the opportunity to purchase an individually made leather briefcase finished off by hand on the premises by a craftsman, Dunhills boasts its own spa and barbers, wine cellar, as well as a humidor where a select number of its clients keep their personal cigar collections in lockers. Little wonder that Mr Quinlan feels right at home once he steps inside the door.
Passing by the Connaught Hotel en route to Dunhills and having long since lost count of the number of Ferraris, Maseratis, Bentleys, Mercedes and Range Rovers that had either whizzed past or growled menacingly by me on Mount Street, I have to admit that for a fleeting moment I found myself agreeing with my namesake's views on the nature of extravagance.
"Extravagant is a relative term. What may be extravagant to one may not be extravagant to somebody else," Mr Quinlan declared in the course of his evidence in the recent High Court battle between Paddy McKillen and the Barclays much to the court's bemusement.
What a pity that the joke was on the rest of us.