Sunday 22 September 2019

Within weeks I knew I'd made a huge mistake

One bad decision had devastating consequences for Seamus Darby and his young family

Seamus Darby. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Seamus Darby. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Seamus Darby

In my travels around the country, there was one place I really liked. I would plan it so that I could pull in, eat a bit and relax when I was on the road working. It was in Borrisokane, County Tipperary.

Having just bought the house outside of Edenderry, I had a gut instinct that I should buy this pub - the Griffin Arms - because I liked the feel of the place.

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It was a lovely premises and every time I passed through there, it seemed to be doing better. It was about 60 miles from Edenderry so I knew it wouldn't make sense to drive up and down. In retrospect, very little about the place made sense if I had to dig a bit deeper, but I didn't. I went purely on my gut that it would be a good buy.

As part of that deal I had to put the property we had in Edenderry up as collateral. Once I did that, there was no bother raising the money at the time in late 1988. I had four flats and three units all paid for in Edenderry. I should have realised that this was a much better business model to stick with and if I minded what I had, I could have retired at 40.

I didn't do that, thinking that the Borrisokane investment would help build for the future for myself and the family. We took over the place and I opened it up with an inexplicable sense of optimism.

I had my suspicions within a week that it might not be quite as good as I was led to believe and within another couple of weeks I knew for certain that I'd made a huge mistake.

I'd started running the business there the week before Christmas - and I calculated that I should take in 10 grand that week - but I didn't. In fact I just about turned over three grand. If I couldn't make the business pay in the week leading up to Christmas when every pub is buzzing, I knew I was in deep trouble.

Borrisokane is a smallish place and had a population of around 1,000 when I started working in the pub there. It was a place I compared to Ferbane in Offaly in terms of size and business opportunity. I liked the place and the people and my failure there had nothing to do with them. It was all down to making a bad business decision - and one I can tell you I paid for a hundred times over.

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From the day I opened it, I lost money hand over fist. Once that happens, the end is always the same - a receiver is appointed and his job is to sell what he can, for whatever he can get. There is no sentiment involved particularly for the person in the middle. I spent just a little over a year there but I ended up losing everything I had ever worked for not just in Borris . . . but in Edenderry as well.

As you go through life, you hear of people losing their businesses but when it happens in such a dramatic manner as I experienced, it takes away all your confidence as a person. You have to be very strong in these dark moments to keep going - and I was.

I went up to Dublin to plead my case to the receiver. I told him I had three young kids, my wife had just had a brain haemorrhage and was trying to recover her ability to walk again. I asked him for time but also offered him every penny of the £580 a week we had coming in from the properties in Edenderry until I managed to get myself back on my feet.

Family wise, it was an even worse time as Veronne, who was only 38 then, had at one stage after the haemorrhage been given only three hours to live. I told him that story, asked him would he take the rents and when the pub was paid for, he could give me back my premises.

As I said, there was no sentiment in such a transaction and he gave me no comfort. It was a straightforward case for him - he needed to raise money immediately and refused to consider long-term options at all.

From his side, this was a black and white case; I hadn't been able to pay the bank back as I was contracted to and that was that. I was out the door.

Once he turned down my plea for a time extension to pay off the pub loan, my businesses were gone and I was back to square one. Within a short time, our Edenderry premises were put up for sale with ads being placed in the national newspapers.

At the auction in Morrissey's in Dublin there was a queue of people there to buy it. On the way in as I was climbing the stairs to the auction room, I bumped into the person who was conducting the sale.

"Will you be bidding for this place?" he asked me.

I looked him up and down, felt like telling him what I thought but decided to keep my cool. "How in the name of f**k can I bid for anything after you've taken everything that I have?" I asked.

He didn't respond to what I implied in my remark and merely said: "OK, that's alright then because if you were going to bid, we'd have needed cash or a draft as a deposit from you."

It was then that I lost control for a second and told him where to go. I still don't regret it. Before that auction date, I went around to people I knew in Edenderry who had the money to buy my property. The receiver was selling my property with two acres of land at the back in the square. As I expected, all of them told me not to worry, they wouldn't go near it.

Myself and my daughter, Naomi, who was 16 at the time, drove up to the auction and met up with a friend from Banagher before going in. He offered to buy the premises on my behalf. I told him that there was no point in doing that because I didn't have the wherewithal to pay him back.

When my lot came up, the auctioneer got up but could get no bid on Borrisokane; then he moved on to the property in Edenderry. At that precise moment, I stepped out from the crowd in the room, walked up to the front and took the mic out of his hand. I looked around the room, drew a deep breath and began talking: "Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen, my name is Seamus Darby and I am the owner of this property."

I went on to explain that Naomi had come with me and I pointed her out to the others present. I felt that my best chance to get my message across was to be honest. I explained the predicament that buying the pub in Borrisokane had placed me in with my property in Edenderry, which was about to go under the hammer.

"I bought that property that is now coming before you and paid for it and put it up as collateral for £130,000 for this bank. It is worth seven or eight times that amount," I explained.

I made it clear that as far as I was concerned, the property was not for sale. I emphasised that there was absolutely no need for the bank to sell it. I told the people at the auction that I was happy to do a deal to ensure the bank could get every penny that it was owed.

I pointed out that this could be done very easily as there was £580 a week coming in from the property and I finished by appealing to them that if they were here to buy the property, that they would desist from doing so.

With that out of the way, I handed back the mic to the auctioneer. I was now happy that I had done my very best to keep the property while outlining clearly my view that there was no reason for a sale.

There were no bids for this property either. I took that to mean that the people there believed my sincerity was genuine. Of course, I was also aware that those wanting to sell and move on would hardly be swayed by how I had painted my predicament. I was thrilled leaving the place, though I knew the receiver was unlikely ever to come around to my point of view.

My intervention messed up the auction on the day but that wouldn't stop other people making a bid afterwards. And that's what happened. Eventually a local person from Edenderry bought it. I never found out how much it went for as I couldn't afford to hire a solicitor to continue acting on my case. They all wanted money up front before engaging with me.

I was crestfallen when that man stepped forward and bought what we had in Edenderry but I was powerless to prevent it. I just had to let it go. For years, I was very upset but thankfully, I've moved on from there since.

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