Dispute between friends over whether €280,000 was loan or gift ends in court

Woman who gave the money hurt when she heard friend hired limousine for daughter’s debs

A woman has sued a couple who were formerly her close friends, claiming a sum of €280,000 she gave them was a loan and not a gift as they maintain.

The €280,000 was part of €750,000 compensation secured by Fidelma Kerrigan in 2010 over serious personal injuries she suffered in a road accident in 2002 in which her father died, the High Court heard.

It is claimed Ms Kerrigan, as a result of her father's death and her injuries, was deeply depressed when, two weeks after getting the compensation cheque in August 2010, she handed over the €280,000 to John and Jacqueline Keenaghan.

It is claimed she did that to help them set up a counselling business or until Mr Keenaghan had completed projects in the pipeline. It is alleged Ms Keenaghan was crying and saying she feared losing their home and being unable to feed her children.


The couple have had their business set up since 2012 but have not repaid the money and Ms Kerrigan is now on social welfare payments, the court was told.

The case opened this week before Ms Justice Deirdre Murphy who, when adjourning it on Friday to November 20th, said it was "never too late" to consider an agreed rather than imposed outcome.

This was especially so because the parties were good friends before these “unhappy events” reminiscent of what Shakespeare said: “Neither a borrower nor lender be”.

In her action, Ms Kerrigan, (59), a single woman of Benildus Avenue, Ballyshannon, Co Donegal, represented by Patrick Kean SC, instructed by Damian Tansey Solicitors, claims it was agreed and understood at all times the money was a short term loan and could be called in, allowing a reasonable period for the defendants to set up their new business.

It is claimed Ms Kerrigan sought repayment in 2014 but the money remains unpaid.

Survivor guilt

The defendants, of Rathmore, Ballyshannon, deny the claims, say the money was a gift with the effect they have not failed to repay it and deny they exercised undue influence over Ms Kerrigan.

In cross-examination by Desmond Murphy SC, for the defendants, Celine Kerrigan, sister of Ms Kerrigan, denied she had supported the view the money was a gift.

She agreed she had considered Ms Keenaghan a good friend and had loved her. “Some friends,” she added.

In evidence, a consultant psychiatrist, Dr Mary Maguire, said Ms Kerrigan had told her she was involved in a road traffic accident in November 2002 in which her father was fatally injured. Ms Kerrigan was driving the car and sustained multiple injuries, including a closed brain injury.

Ms Kerrigan received €750,000 compensation and said she had loaned €280,000 to neighbours.

Dr Maguire, in a report, said Ms Kerrigan had said Ms Keenaghan kept asking her about her personal injury claim during the years she was waiting for it and allegedly kept telling her the Keenaghan family were going to lose their home and could not afford to eat as Mr Keeenagan’s architectural business had apparently imploded during the recession.

She said Ms Kerrigan had said she had memory problems immediately after the accident and, at the time she gave the money, was on medication. Ms Kerrigan had said: “I was not right, I did not want to live, I felt guilty even though I did not cause the accident. Daddy was dead, I was driving him.”

Ms Kerrigan also said she was hurt when made aware Ms Keenaghan had gone on holidays to the US and hired a limousine for her daughter’s debs. Dr Maguire said Ms Kerrigan came across as “naive”, “childlike” and a “very caring” type of person.

The doctor believed Ms Kerrigan had so many problems mentally and physically at the time the money was provided she would be susceptible to emotional distress perceived by her in another person.

Cross-examined by Mr Murphy, the doctor said her report was based on what Ms Kerrigan told her, adding there was also a psychotherapist’s report from 2009 indicating Ms Kerrigan was suffering from marked survivor guilt.

Mr Murphy said his side contested every aspect of the claim Ms Kerrigan was “preyed upon” and the psychotherapist’s report was based on accepting entirely the version of events provided by Ms Kerrigan.

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times