New owners give John Gilligan’s Jessbrook a fresh start

Paint still drying ahead of Emerald International opening this weekend

New owner James Buckley talks about transforming John Gilligan's former estate into Emerald International, a top-class equestrian centre in Enfield, Co Kildare.


The new owners of an equestrian centre formerly known as Jessbrook hope to give a fresh start to the facility’s shadowy past as they paint the fences. But they cannot get a dry day.

“The weather’s been so bad this month. It’s been so hard to get everything finished, and then you paint things, and it rains when they say it’s going to be a sunny day,” said event manager Caroline Teltsch, ahead of the grand opening this weekend.

Owner James Buckley, a native of Newbridge and himself a show jumper before he was sidelined by injuries, bought the property from the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) earlier this year for nearly €500,000. The CAB had seized it from convicted drug dealer John Gilligan.

Renamed Emerald International, the refurbished equestrian centre boasts five show jumping arenas, 3,000 seats and 36 new toilets on 64 acres in Enfield, Co Kildare.

Buckley said the centre was a shell when he acquired it and had to be cleaned up because it had been left derelict for many years.

Although the arenas contain only tradesmen and the odd JCB at the moment, Buckley is confident the work will be completed in time for the official unveiling this weekend, when there will be an Irish masters show.

Buckley does not have any concerns about security at the show, a sentiment echoed by Teltsch.

“We’ll have security on, obviously, as we would with any show. But nothing out of the ordinary . . . There are horses here, so of course we have security. We’ll make sure the place is properly policed, as one does for all serious horse shows,” she said.

James’s father, Noel Buckley, said he wants to look to the future, not the past. “I don’t know [John Gilligan] . . .and it’s none of my business . . . We purchased this from the Government. We knew it had history, but it’s got nothing to do with us.”

The property’s past has not deterred riders from signing up for the event. Entries for this weekend are full, and there is a 60-horse waiting list.