October 2nd, 1990
FROM THE ARCHIVES:Niall Kiely profiled Patrick Gallagher as the property developer was jailed for two years in Belfast for fraud in his collapsed banking company. -
IN THE early 1980s, before worried banks put a halt to his headlong commercial gallop, the bespectacled mien of Patrick Gallagher was easily one of the best-known faces of Irish capitalism. He appeared more often than not against a background of expensive trappings – thoroughbred racehorses, mansions, big-money deals.
The rise and rise of Matt Gallagher’s son surprised more by its rapid pace than by the fact that it happened in the first place. It occurred during a period when fortunes were being made on building land, a property boom seemed never-ending and a thrusting risk-taker who had taken over as managing director of the family company at the age of 22 appeared better than most at calling the crucial plays.
Before the cracks began to appear in the house of cards early in 1982, few were predicting anything but further success for the then 30-year-old. It was not as though he had not weathered difficult conditions in the past.
He had inherited wealth from the death in 1974 of his father, a man who had built up his construction fortune from humble beginnings in Tubbercurry, Co Sligo, and a first job labouring on an English building site. But Patrick Gallagher also had to cope in the 1970s with an unprecedented oil crisis, a falling away in property prices and sharp increases in interest rates . . .
He had first become a company director at the age of 12 in 1963 when he and his then seven-year- old brother Paul were nominated to the board of Gallagher Trusts Limited. By the time of father Matt’s sudden death in 1974, the family interests had grown to a total of 17 companies . . .
By the time the liquidator was called in at the end of March 1982, Gallagher companies owned the Slazenger site on St. Stephen’s Green, the former Alexandra College site on Earlsfort Terrace, the Phoenix Park racecourse, Donaghmede shopping centre, a three-house block on Lower Mount Street, Straffan House and stud, Castle Howard, Dolanstown Stud and development land in Boyle, Co Roscommon, and in Limerick, as well as locations in [Dublin and Wicklow] . . .
The news in March 1982 that the Gallaghers were bidding for the H. Williams supermarkets caused initial tremors, and with hindsight it later became obvious that this was a last and desperate attempt to secure a cash-cow for a group in serious need of liquid cash to ward off the pressing banks.
Patrick Gallagher, it transpired, had gambled at long odds and his guesswork had been badly wrong. His conviction that the property market growth that had been sustained since the early 1960s was simply wrong, and his overweening ambition, had pushed the group into a very tight corner.
The crux arrived over a deal which he could not push to completion. A £15.75 million sale of the Slazenger site to Irish Life fell through, and the plot failed to find any other serious takers.