Maverick entrepreneur who went from boom to bust with Celtic Tiger

Farm boy with a flair for business built a fortune worth €1.7bn at its peak

Property developer Jim Mansfield, who died on Wednesday – he had been ill for some time and had suffered from Multiple System Atrophy (MSA) in recent years. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Property developer Jim Mansfield, who died on Wednesday – he had been ill for some time and had suffered from Multiple System Atrophy (MSA) in recent years. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Thu, Jan 30, 2014, 01:00

Jim Mansfield was a great, great character,” Noel Smyth, the former solicitor and long- term adviser to the late businessman, recalled yesterday.

The two men first met in the 1970s when Mansfield had a legal dispute about a Dublin nightclub he ran called The Fiesta.

“Jim was impressed that the judge knew my name and we hit it off,” said Smyth. Later their paths would cross again in a spectacular deal which made Mansfield very wealthy.

Mansfield was born on April 9th, 1939. He was brought up by his mother with his two brothers on a farm in Brittas, south Dublin. A strongly-built man, Mansfield had what he described as a “wild youth” but he was also industrious. He had an innate ability to do deals in his head despite leaving school at 14.

His first job was as a truck driver and he settled down somewhat when he married his beloved Anne from Terenure, Dublin 6. Three sons followed – Tony, Jimmy jnr and PJ.

He built up a small haulage business and from fixing his own trucks he developed a love of machinery. He started to trade in used equipment and vehicles and when Ireland entered a recession in the 1980s he snapped up disused building machinery and sold it on abroad.


Falklands war
The British prime minister Margaret Thatcher gave him his big break in 1983 when, after the Falklands war ended abruptly, she put thousands of tonnes worth of plant, equipment and scrap that had been shipped down there unnecessarily up for sale.

Mansfield teamed up with Smyth to buy the lot, backed by a loan from Ansbacher Bank. “We brought it all back to Atlanta and the UK and sold it off around the world,” Smyth recalled.

“We had great fun at that time. The department of defence [in Britain] and lots of other people were annoyed we won the deal! Jim was an entrepreneur who was very anti-establishment and he got a great kick out of it.”

Mansfield in his first interview two decades later said he made IR£100 million from that one deal. He was among the first Irish men to own a private jet as a result.

By 1998, Mansfield owned a 100-bed hotel called Citywest in southwest Dublin. It had a golf course designed by his friend Christy O’Connor Jr, but not much else.

Mansfield asked John Glynn, who ran the Burlington in Dublin, then Ireland’s largest hotel, to help. “Jim spoke like a man in the plant hire business and a four-letter word was not irregular but he was courageous and passionate about that part of Dublin [around Citywest],” Glynn said.