The curse of Kilternan
The development of Kilternan Golf and Country Club has ended the careers of multiple high-flyers over four decades. Now in Nama, it lies empty – with no sign of a buyer. So what will happen to Ireland’s greatest white elephant?
The Kilternan Hotel and Golf Resort project, which remains unfinished and unopened, in South Co Dublin. Photographs: Eric Luke
The empty swimming pool in the leisure centre at the Kilternan Hotel and Golf Resort project. Photograph: Eric Luke
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On a clear day the views of Dublin from the top of the artificial ski run at Kilternan are stunning but the faraway cityscape draws the eye less now than the low-rise complex of glass and metal planted in the woods at the base of the slope. Sprawling over more than 100 acres, the Kilternan Golf and Country Club should be a hive of activity with guests coming and going and staff rushing to attend the needs of the well-to-do, but this is a hotel with no guests and, apart from a handful of security guards patrolling the perimeter, no staff either. It is a place without a purpose.
The stars came out here once. Back in the 1970s when the hotel in the foothills of the Dublin mountains was a shadow of its current self, Muhammad Ali, Sean Connery and Paul Newman used to walk its corridors and run the long and winding roads that criss-crossed the property.
Today, despite an investment of more than €170 million over two frantic years from 2006, the Kilternan Golf & Country Club Hotel is under the control of Nama and lies empty and idle – a white elephant poignantly emblematic of a Celtic Tiger’s ambitions gone awry.
Some people say this is a cursed place. And well it might be, given the ease and frequency with which it has brought the careers of multiple high-flyers crashing down over the past 40 years.
Everything looked so promising for brothers John and Willie Oppermann and their brother-in-law Joe Wall when they opened the doors of their upmarket country club surrounded by 115-acres of rolling hills and forests here in 1972. Locals bought into the concept with almost unseemly haste and it quickly became a boozy bolt-hole for the well-heeled denizens of south Co Dublin. But before the Oppermanns could get used to their new-found status as country club elite, their luck deserted them. After just a year, a promised investment from an American backer went south and their club fell into the hands of a receiver.
Locals, dismayed by the prospect of losing their club and all the cachet and chicken cordon bleu that came with it, tried to buy the property and keep the doors open. They got the readies together but were outbid by Pat Quinn of Quinnsworth. He bought the place for £500,000 in June 1973 and set about spending £400,000 on re-developing it as a social and sports club to be known as the Pat Quinn Club. It wasn’t to be known as that for long though, and less than a year after he cut the ribbon on his vanity project, Quinn’s tenure was over and his club was wound up with liabilities of £1 million.
It was then resurrected as the Dublin Sports Hotel before being taken over by a Hong Kong-born businessman Raymond Tsan in the early 1980s. He paid £1.2 million for the property and, like Quinn before him, spent £400,000 on a refurbishment. It failed again and by 1987 it was back with the receivers. It changed hands several times before eventually finding its way to Hugh O’Regan.