Man awarded half of neighbour’s farm he worked 38 years

Decision not based on claim deceased promised man farm to not report sex abuse, judge says

Half of a 76-acre farm owned by a bachelor who died intestate in 2009 must go to a neighbour who worked at substantial underpayment for the deceased for 38 years, the High Court has ruled. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times.

Half of a 76-acre farm owned by a bachelor who died intestate in 2009 must go to a neighbour who worked at substantial underpayment for the deceased for 38 years, the High Court has ruled. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times.

 

Half of a 76-acre farm owned by a bachelor who died intestate in 2009 must go to a neighbour who worked at substantial underpayment for the deceased for 38 years, the High Court has ruled.

Gerard Finnegan (57) is also entitled to half the value of the stock and machinery of the late James Gartland (79), who owned the farm at Broomfield, Castleblaney, Co Monaghan, Mr Justice Michael White said.

The other half goes to Mr Gartland’s surviving relatives, who include his brother Eugene and sisters, Margaret, Rosie, Bridget and Kathleen.

Mr Finnegan brought proceedings against Mr Gartland’s sister, Margaret Hand, Lough Egish, Castleblaney, as administrator of her brother’s estate. He claimed a constructive trust existed in his favour in relation to the entire farm.

Mr Justice White found such a trust did arise based on numerous promises to Mr Finnegan he would be rewarded in the future with an interest in the farm. Mr Finnegan spent a substantial part of his adult life working the farm, putting in long hours for substantial underpayment, the judge said.

In making his decision, the judge said he was not relying on Mr Finnegan’s claim the deceased promised the farm if he did not tell gardaí the deceased sexually abused Mr Finnegan in the 1970s. Mr Finnegan claimed the deceased sexually abused him between the ages of 11 and 20, the abuse stopped in 1979 and Mr Gartland felt sorry it ever happened. 

He said they subsequently grew close and developed a great friendship. As a result, the abuse had no bearing on the relationship between 1980 and Mr Gartland’s death in 2009, Mr Finnegan said.

Credibility

The judge said making those allegations was not easy for Mr Finnegan and the court considered they did not undermine his credibility.

He found Mr Finnegan “devoted an extraordinary amount of time” to the farm, working seven days a week from early morning to late evening and played “a very significant part” in its running.

While not accepting Mr Finnegan’s claim of a difficult relationship between Mr Gartland and his siblings, the judge said it did not seem the Hand family were actively involved in working the farm.

The judge noted Mr Finnegan’s evidence of being promised a number of times by Mr Gartland the farm would go to him.

The court heard Mr Finnegan, a married father of three, had lived in his own substandard family farm house near Mr Gartland. After the Finnegan’s refused an offer of a council house in 1987 in Carrickmacross, Mr Gartland gifted them a site on his farm where they built a new house with a bank mortgage.

Mr Justice White said, despite “some problems” with Mr Finnegan’s credibility, he accepted his evidence the deceased on different occasions “directly and obliquely” led him to believe he would be a beneficiary in his will.

Active efforts

There was no evidence of active efforts to make a will but discussions between Mr Gartland and his accountant suggested, if he made a will, it would be in favour of his nieces and nephews, the judge said.

When all the evidence was examined, the judge said he had little doubt Mr Gartland was “prepared to make promises which he did not necessarily intend to keep” to ensure Mr Finnegan continued to work for him and that he enjoyed the comfort and companionship of the latter’s family.

He found, due to Mr Gartland’s behaviour in holding out to Mr Finnegan he would be rewarded in the future, it would be “unconscionable” the entire estate would go to the blood relations of the deceased”.

The judge also ruled any money in Mr Gartland’s bank accounts should go to his next of kin and Mr Finnegan must give €10,000 to the estate as credit for the value of the hosue site gifted to him.