AIB goes transatlantic over hotel debt

Bank in pursuit of the former owner of the landmark Walter Raleigh Hotel in Youghal

AIB's legal eagles have crossed the Atlantic Ocean in pursuit of the former owner of the landmark four-star Walter Raleigh Hotel in Youghal.

Richard Voke, a wily old Democrat politician with a power base in Boston, bought the hotel in 2005 for almost €2.5 million. The bank stumped up €1.6 million, while Voke provided a personal guarantee for some of the cash.

The hotel went bust during the recession and Voke relocated back to Boston, but he appears to have welched on his guarantee to date. The bank got fed up last week of receiving no replies to its demands for payment, and has filed a suit against Voke in the Massachusetts courts.

Voke was a powerful state representative back in his political heyday during the 1990s, so AIB isn't up against a dummy. He was the favourite in 1996 to be elected speaker of the Massachusetts house of representatives, where he was the Democratic majority leader.


However, his rival, Thomas Finneran, did a deal with Republicans to keep Voke out. He retired from politics a few years later, and turned up in Youghal in 2005 to buy the Walter Raleigh Hotel, which is named after the explorer who was the town’s most famous former resident. Voke’s ancestors came from Cork.

Voke holdings

According to the court papers, Voke Holdings, the company he set up to buy the hotel, owes AIB more than €2.1 million. However, the company entered liquidation in 2011, so it is unlikely to get its money back. Voke’s guarantee was limited to €200,000. The bank says it sent him at least five written demand for the cash, most recently in February this year. In March, AIB says, “an individual purporting to be a representative of Voke” phoned AIB and said he would engage. Since then, the bank has heard nothing.

The Walter Raleigh Hotel has since been bought for a fraction of the price paid by Voke, and has been completely refurbished and is apparently thriving. Its new owners are not party to any of the legal proceedings.

Incidentally, the swashbuckling English noble after whom the hotel is named also had another hotel named after him in Raleigh, North Carolina, a city that also carries his moniker. He led several expeditions from Ireland in an attempt and colonise the area in the 1500s.

The US hotel was called the Sir Walter Raleigh. His British title as a knight of the realm doesn’t appear in the name of the Youghal property. Cork is the Rebel county, after all.