‘You know what the guy in the bank said about you Ross? “It’s like he doesn’t have feelings, like someone hollowed out his soul”’

The seats have been put out –

300 of them, with a glossy brochure on each one. There's, like, music in the room – we're talking, like, Vivaldi? – and soft lighting. I check that the old PowerPoint Presentation is ready to roll. Then I check the time on my phone. Five minutes to go.

Five minutes until the doors open for Hook, Lyon and Sinker's first ever Distressed Property Auction in the Shelbourne Hotel. A total of 22 houses are going under the hammer today, although most people are interested in three gaffs in particular: Positano on Shrewsbury Road; Tramonti on the Leopardstown Road; and Conca dei Marini on Sidmonton Road in Bray, of all places.

You could say I'm responsible for Hook, Lyon and Sinker being given the job of selling all three, having impressed the bank with my willingness to walk straight past the New Land League protestors and take the measurements and specifications of a gaff before the occupiers have even been evicted.


“You excited?” JP’s old man goes.

I’m there, “Big time. Should we possibly open the doors? They sound like they’re getting restless out there.”

“That’s not the sound of restlessness. That’s the sound of people dreaming again. You know, for seven years, I listened to politicians and commentators saying that we must never again allow greed and acquisitiveness to blind us to our responsibilities as human beings. And look. The first sign that the economy’s picking up and we’ve got 300 people outside that door, looking to pick up someone else’s dream home for a fraction of what they originally paid for it.”

“It’d make you nearly proud to be Irish alright.”

“Yes, it would. But it’s not just an Irish thing. It’s a fundamental fact about human nature – we all want to live in a better world, but not as much as we want to live in a big house with a nice view. Let me ask you something.”

“Yeah, no, go ahead.”

“How would feel about becoming a partner in the business?”

I’m literally bowled over.

I'm like, "A portner? I think – yeah, no – I'd like that? But what about JP?"

“Who the hell is JP?”

“Er, your son? The deputy managing director of the company?”

"Oh, him . . . Look, I told you, JP is a good – hey, what bullshit job title did you just say? – deputy managing director? But he isn't the man to lead Hook, Lyon and Sinker into the era of the Celtic Phoenix. You are, Kid."

“A portner, though?”

“Hey, it’s the least I owe you. Positano’s going to go for upwards of four million today. Tramonti, two million. Conca dei Marini, one point five. Do you know what our commission is on that lot?”

“It’ll be a fair few shecks, I’d say.”

“And we wouldn’t have them if it wasn’t for you. You know what the guy in the bank said to me about you? He said, ‘It’s like he doesn’t even have feelings. It’s like someone hollowed out his soul.’”

“That’s a nice quote about me alright.”

“We’ll put it on the website when we announce your appointment. So do you want to let them in?”

I open the double doors and they flood into the function room. It’s like the first day of the Arnott’s Christmas Sale – except with less velours and more desperation.

I’m fiddling with the PowerPoint display, just double-checking all the photographs are there, when JP all of a sudden appears at my elbow.

“Massive day for you,” he goes.

And I’m like, “Massive day for Hook, Lyon and Sinker, I would have said – as in, the actual company?”

He’s there, “Did my old man offer to make you a portner?”

I can’t lie to the dude. I played rugby with him.

“No,” I go, “I don’t know where you got your information from,” and then I think better of it and I’m like, “Okay, then, yeah, he did offer to make me a portner.”

He just nods. I can tell that his hort is broken.

“Congratulations,” he goes. “I hope today goes well for you,” and he walks away with literally tears in his eyes.

His old man hammers the, I don’t know, gavel off the table, then he launches into his big introduction. “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Hook, Lyon and Sinker inaugural Distressed Property Auction . . .”

And that’s when it happens.

They enter through the double doors – we’re talking 30, maybe 40 of them – carrying placards and chanting, “The Land for the People!” over and over again.

The first person I recognise is Dáibhéid Straide from the New Land League, with his big bald head and his humongous moustache and his Carl Gross sports coat with a waistcoat underneath, shouting, "We, the spiritual descendants of those brave men – and women – who prosecuted the 19th-century Land War on behalf of struggling tenant farmers, are here today to reassert the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of the land of Ireland."

I recognise a good few of them. They're all either dudes my old man knows from golf, friends of my old dear's from The Gables or mates of Sorcha's old man from the Law Library.

Then – I don’t believe it – my old dear actually appears out of the crowd, the badly-botoxed scarecrow.

"Positano," she announces, "is where my good friend Mallorie Heffernan lives. It's been in her family for literally 30 years. I simply won't allow it to be sold here today."

JP’s old man is staring at me. He lifts his eyebrows as if to say, “She’s your supposed mother. Do something!”

So I go, “This is a private public auction – get out, you bet-down, gin-addled boxtroll,” except the point I’m trying to make is drowned out by the sound of a hand-held, aerosol foghorn, going, “BBBRRRMMMMMM.”

Suddenly, all the protestors produce these horns. A lot of them are yachting types – they’d have access to them. Then they fan out, circling the entire room, and they all press their horns at exactly the same time.

It’s like, “BBBRRRMMMMMM . . .”

People stort leaving in their droves. I look at JP’s old man, and he makes a motion with his two hands that says, the show’s over – we’re out of here. ILLUSTRATION: ALAN CLARKE