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Gilligan’s former horse centre has new lease of life

Convicted drug dealer John Gilligan’s former equestrian centre, Jessbrook, has turned over a new leaf with a new owner and name.

Now named the Emerald International Equestrian Centre its new owner James Buckley was not deterred by the centre’s past.

“It was a bargain. The former history of Jessbrook didn’t put me off. This is the beginning of a new chapter for the place,” said the show-jumper.

The equestrian centre was seized from the Gilligan family by the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) after a lengthy legal battle.


CAB sold the Kildare centre, on 55 acres, last spring for approximately €500,000.

“CAB were brilliant to deal with. It’s all systems go,” said Mr Buckley.

And now the equestrian enthusiast plans to turn it into an international competition facility with work already underway in Kildare with a wax floor down in the main indoor arena.

Mr Buckley plans to hold both show-jumping and eventing in the centre and is in talks with various events organisers in the equestrian world with a view to tying down dates and fixtures.

“We are putting in a new wax surface into the main indoor (arena) which is 6,950 sq metres and has two tiered seating catering for over 3,000 people,” Mr Buckley said.

He also explained that there is a stables there big enough to hold 50 horses, as well as an outdoor floodlit arena.

Mr Buckley hopes to open the doors to the Emerald International Equestrian Centre this August to host the first shows.

By next year he aims to add two extra outdoor areas and a grass arena as well as a cross-country gallop.

Mr Buckley’s plans have come into place since a sale agreed sign was first erected at Gilligan’s former family home, last December.

Gilligan, who spent 17 years in prison for drug-trafficking offences, purchased the estate for approximately €445,000 in 1995.

The criminal then spent €1.5m renovating Jessbrook into Ireland’s largest indoor equestrian centre.

It was believed to be worth €5m when it was put on the market last year for only €500,000. After its first three weeks on the market there were no bids on the property.

Earlier this year, Gilligan survived an attempt on his life after being shot in the head and chest while at his brother’s house in Clondalkin.

He is now recuperating in England.


But with Jessbrook now officially the Emerald International Equestrian Centre it has a very different future ahead as its new owner also plans to open a restaurant at the Kildare property.

“It’s an exciting time for us and, although this place was fairly raw when we got it, it’s about 70pc there now.

“We are doing clearing and levelling work and pushing forward with it all,” Mr Buckley said in an interview to the Irish Field.