Criminal assets: Six Irish houses with dark pasts

Jessbrook, former home of convicted criminal John Gilligan, is ‘sale agreed’

Jessbrook, the former home of convicted criminal John Gilligan has been declared "sale agreed", eight months after it went up for sale with what was seen as a low €120,000 guide price. The selling price is believed to be a lot higher than the guide for the country house on over five acres near Enfield on the Meath-Kildare border.

The house was seized by the Criminal Assets Bureau in February 2017 after Gilligan's 20-year fight to retain it. Gilligan was jailed in 2001 for drug trafficking. After his release in 2013, he survived a shooting in which he was seriously wounded (this did not occur at Jessbrook).

The future owner is unknown at this point, and there is speculation it may not be used as a residence, but for a business or hospitality.

But it prompts the question – what happens to houses with a notorious past, after the dust settled? All homes above a certain age have ghosts, but what if it’s an infamous ghost? And what if you don’t know about a house’s notoriety until after you buy it?


Eoin O'Dell, fellow and associate professor at the School of Law, Trinity College Dublin, last week told the Irish Times that a vendor is not obliged to disclose the history of a house. And a buyer cannot pull out of the purchase if they later find out that some shadow hangs over it.

Brian Dempsey, partner at DNG, confirms that "there is no onus on an agent to tell a buyer about what's happened in a house. We would be expected to answer honestly if asked of course, but there is no obligation to volunteer the information.

“It might be advisable when a house sale goes to the solicitor to ask them to run a due diligence check to ensure against any murky past the property might have.”

Carnroe, Knocknashee, Goatstown

Carnroe in Goatstown, Dublin was the home of Brian Kearney, Siobhán McLaughlin and their three-year-old son, when he murdered her on February 28th, 2006. They also lived at the Hotel Salvia, which they ran on the Spanish island of Mallorca.

He strangled her in the bedroom, then tried to make it look like a suicide. In March 2008 Kearney was sentenced to life in prison after a high-profile court case.

While Kearney was asset-rich with property and business interests worth €5.1 million before tax, he had a mortgage of €15,300 a month because the family home had been remortgaged to build a new house next door and to buy Hotel Salvia in Spain.

The name of the detached house at Knocknashee, Goatstown, Dublin 14, was changed from Carnroe to Thornbury after Kearney was imprisoned. The house has since changed name again.

Records show the house for sale three times: as Carnroe for sale in September 2005, before the murder, for €1,100,000; after the murder in September 2007 under the name Thornbury, for €1,400,000, both ambitious price tags; it went back on the market a third time, asking €735,000. The property price register shows Thornbury sold for €580,000 in September 2011.

The new house next to the original Carnroe house is called Salvia, the same name as the hotel in Mallorca.An appeal by Kearney was dismissed in 2009.

Kerrymount Close, Foxrock

Architect Graham Dwyer was convicted in May 2015 of the murder of 36-year-old childcare worker Elaine O'Hara in August 2012. His former family home at the end of a tree-lined cul-de-sac in south Co Dublin appears to be boarded up and still empty. In 2015 it was reported to have been broken into several times.

Dwyer was arrested at the house on October 17th, 2013 and has been in custody ever since. His family moved out of the house.

There was huge publicity for the trial, which exposed his double life via hundreds of text messages between Dwyer and his victim Elaine O’Hara.

Dwyer was reported as having spent his 45th birthday last September at the Midlands Prison in Portlaoise, Co Laois, and was preparing for an appeal.

Rowan Hill on Windgate Road, Howth

The four- or five- bedroom detached house on an acre where Eamon Lillis murdered his wife, television production executive Celine Cawley, in December 2008, was sold for €850,000, in October 2012, according to the property price register. The house may have been worth €1.5 million at one stage. The house now has a different name.

Two years later after the murder, Cawley’s husband Lillis was convicted of killing her outside the house and received a sentence of six years and 11 months. He was released from Wheatfield Prison in April 2015, after serving five years.

While in prison he is reported to have received €1.3 million, including his share from the sale of the Howth house, €358,505 from the liquidation of his wife’s TV production company, €131,500 from the sale of an apartment in Sutton and about €22,000 in investment bonds.

Cawley’s brother and sister lost a legal battle over her estate; her family wanted the couple’s child to inherit her wealth rather than her murderer. In 2012 the High Court ruled Lillis was entitled to his half-interest in assets jointly owned by himself and his late wife, despite his conviction for her manslaughter. This meant Lillis retained co-ownership of the family home.

Eight months before leaving prison Lillis bought a bungalow in south Dublin, where he is now believed to live.

Jack White’s pub

Catherine Nevin was jailed for life in the year 2000 for orchestrating the killing of her husband Tom at their pub in 1996, after a 42-day trial. In February 2018 she died in a Dublin hospice after a long-term illness.

The pub became the scene of one of Ireland's most famous murders when Tom Nevin was shot dead by armed and masked raiders. Tom Nevin was shot dead in the kitchen of the pub in the early hours of March 19th, 1996.

The traditional Irish pub and restaurant in Brittas Bay, Co Wicklow was named after a 17th century smuggler and is off Junction 19 on the M11.

Catherine and Tom Nevin opened Jack White’s in 1986. Catherine Nevin sold the pub in 1998 – two years after husband Tom was shot dead – for a reported £500,000 (€620,000).

It was closed for a number of years after the murder but reopened in 2003 after being purchased for close to €2.5 million.

Cowper Downs, former home of Martin “The General” Cahill

The four-bedroom home at Cowper Downs in Rathmines formerly owned by notorious Dublin criminal Martin Cahill, known as "The General", was seized by the Criminal Assets Bureau and sold at auction by Gunne on June 14th, 2005 for €904,000 to an undisclosed buyer.

A spokesperson for the estate agent said at the time that there had been five bidders for the 125 sq m (1,345 sq ft) house, which has a large private garden.

The price was significantly lower than the average price at the time of €1.2 million for other houses on the road, because of the condition of the house and the notoriety of the address. CAB had recently dug up the entire back garden of the house searching for proceeds of crime.

The estate agents described the sale as “an outstanding opportunity to acquire a detached residence in the heart of Dublin 6”.

Cahill was shot in August 1994, as he drove through nearby Ranelagh in his black Renault 5.

Lambay View in Baldar, Naul

In June 2015 the house where Joe O’Reilly killed his wife Rachel was sold to a mystery buyer. The Property Price Register shows it sold for €206,000.

The three-bed secluded bungalow in the Naul had been deteriorating and lying idle since O’Reilly was charged with the brutal killing. Grimes Estate agents had described the house as “in need of modernisation and upgrading”.

Rachel O’Reilly (30) died after she was badly beaten in one of the house’s bedrooms in October 2004. O’Reilly claimed Rachel had been killed in a botched burglary.

When the house was sold, Rachel's father Jim Callaly told the Evening Herald he hoped the new owner would either live in it with a family, or raze it to the ground and build a new house. "I'd hate to see it going to rack and ruin after the dreams that Rachel had for it," he said.