Baron loses court bid on paintings

Wed, Sep 19, 2012, 01:00

A High Court judge has refused to grant the 18th Baron of Inchiquin, Conor O’Brien, a mandatory order for the recovery of his 37 ancestral portraits which hang in Dromoland Castle Hotel.

While also declining to grant Lord Inchiquin an injunction restraining their reproduction pending the hearing of a full trial later, Mr Justice Daniel O’Keeffe said today he felt the status quo should remain as the hotel company could face damages if it was later found the paintings had been unlawfully copied.

Judge O’Keeffe said there was no clause banning reproductions in the agreement under which Conor O’Brien had loaned the portraits to Dromoland Castle Holdings Ltd.

The proceedings was put into the High Court list for mention on October 3rd and the judge suggested that there should be as early a trial as possible to decide all issues.

The paintings have hung for decades in Dromoland Castle. The hotel had stated it was prepared to return the paintings to O’Brien who, it agreed, was the owner of them. It wanted firstly to take copies of them to cover the chasms of wall space laid bare by an en masse return of the paintings to Lord Inchiquin.

The company had denied allegations by Lord Inchiquin that some of the €1.4 m-worth of paintings and their gold leaf gilt frames had been damaged but any claim in this respect will have to await determination at the full trial expected to be heard early next year.

Judge O’Keeffe told Frank Callanan SC, counsel for Lord Inchiquin, that the court would be in a position at the full trial to ascertain the precise nature of the agreement governing the arrangement whereby they had continued to hang in the hotel.

Lord Inchiquin had claimed the agreement had been validly terminated by his solicitor Robert Dore in a letter to the defendant in May 2012. The letter had claimed the defendant had done untold damage to the paintings which was continuing and had also made some copies unknown to the plaintiff.

Judge O’Keeffe said Lord Inchiquin stated he had a purchaser for his paintings and was most anxious to sell them as soon as possible. No price had been disclosed and it was stated he intended to sell them to a member of his family.

Mark Nolan, general manager of the hotel, had told the court the portraits had hung in the castle for decades and he had disputed the assertion that they had been damaged or that Dromoland Castle Holdings Ltd had been negligent or reckless with them.

Mr Callanan told the court the original agreement was silent on reproduction of the paintings but claimed the defendant had no entitlement to reproduce them.

Judge O’Keeffe told Jonathan Newman, counsel for Dromoland Castle Holdings, that whether or not Lord Inchiquin would be able to establish in law that an implied term banning reproduction existed, would have to await the outcome of the case.

Lord Inchiquin had contended that reproduction of the paintings would vastly diminish their value and would cause him damage. These were matters that could be assessed at the trial and considered under the heading of adequacy of damages.

In determining whether or not there was a prohibition on reproduction of the portraits, the court would have to consider at the full trial the implication of Lord Inchiquin’s acceptance in legal argument that there was no prohibition on visitors to the hotel taking photographs of the paintings and producing images for their own benefit. No claim had been made in copyright.

The judge said that if the defendant reproduced the paintings pending the trial then it was at risk to a claim for damages.