Court told baron tried to take paintings at night


THE 18TH Baron Inchiquin turned up at Dromoland Castle Hotel in the early morning with a removals company, in a bid to unlawfully take family portraits off the walls, the High Court has been told.

Mark Nolan, managing director and general manager of the hotel, alleged in a sworn statement that Lord Inchiquin, otherwise known as Conor O’Brien, had told the night porter on July 10th last that he had Mr Nolan’s permission to remove 37 paintings.

Mr Nolan said he had to be woken from his bed to stop Lord Inchiquin’s team taking the O’Brien ancestral family paintings, valued at €1.4 million, off the walls.

“It was not until I was notified of these activities and confronted him [Lord Inchiquin] and his associates that they removed themselves from the premises,” Mr Nolan said. “By the time I arrived shortly before 1am, two of the paintings had already been removed and boxed. At my request the paintings were subsequently rehung.”

In a legal row between the aristocrat and the five-star Co Clare hotel, Mr O’Brien, Dromoland Estate, Newmarket-on-Fergus, is seeking the return of the portraits which have hung in the castle for decades before and after it became a hotel. The hotel accepts the originals belong to Lord Inchiquin.

Frank Callanan, for the baron, told the court the art collection was a very important and unique record illustrating the history of one of Ireland’s most noble families and was of great interest to historians and scholars alike.

He said that under an agreement, Lord Inchiquin had lent his collection to Dromoland Castle Holdings Ltd and they had been on display at the hotel for decades.

Lord Inchiquin told Mr Justice Daniel O’Keeffe that his solicitor Robert Dore had legally terminated the agreement. The hotel had not cared for his collection and very considerable damage had been done to the portraits.

He alleged the hotel had been grossly negligent and reckless with the paintings and frames. It would cost almost €300,000 to restore them. Gold-leafed frames on 17 paintings had been painted over with gold household paint and it would cost just under €3,000 a frame to reinstate them. The baron is also seeking to restrain the hotel from making reproductions after the originals are returned.

He told the court he had arranged with the hotel for expert removers McGimpsey Brothers, Bangor, Co Down, to collect the paintings after midnight to cause the minimum of inconvenience to the hotel but Mr Nolan would not permit their collection.

Mr Callanan said Lord Inchiquin wanted to sell the paintings to a family member so they could remain within the O’Brien family and he had been made an offer. The hotel wanted reproductions made to replace chasms of space following the return of the originals.

Mr Justice O’Keeffe will today continue hearing the application.