Prominent businessman behind refurbishment of Menlo Castle

 

A prominent solicitor and businessman, Mr Noel Smyth, has confirmed that he is the "mystery developer" involved with Galway Corporation in a £3 million project to restore Menlo Castle on the Corrib river.

Mr Smyth, who is best known as legal adviser to the former executive chairman of Dunnes Stores, Mr Ben Dunne, has extensive property interests including chairmanship of Dunloe Ewart.

He has offered to restore the 17th-century tower-house ruin and its outer buildings to their original form, in return for a long-term lease of the top floor for private residential use.

Galway Corporation's decision to invoke compulsory purchase orders (CPOs) on local landowners, requiring them to dispose of their shareholdings to allow the project to proceed, was the subject of a public inquiry by the Department of Environment in Galway a week ago.

At the inquiry the city manager, Mr Joe Gavin, refused to release the identity of a developer with whom agreement had been reached in principle.

The inquiry heard that a Galway businessman, Mr John Coyle, and his company, Huntdale Holdings, had agreed to give the corporation a 75 per cent shareholding in the property and a site of 1.6 acres in return for a 750 sq ft area in the courtyard.

However, two of four local landowners holding shares of one-sixteenth respectively had objected to the acquisition.

The city manager yesterday issued a letter to the Mayor of Galway and city councillors in which he named the party as Mr Smyth, of Fitzwilliam Square, Dublin.

Mr Gavin did not make any reference to Mr Smyth's professional capacity

Mr Smyth "was born in the Claddagh and spent a considerable part of his youth on the Corrib river", Mr Gavin said in his memorandum.

"He has very fond memories of his time in Galway and, having done well for himself in life, he would like to restore Menlo Castle primarily as a public amenity for Galway."

Under Section 19 of the 1982 Finance Act, the cost of such restoration can be offset against tax if Duchas, the Heritage Service, certifies that the building is of significant architectural merit.

Mr Smyth told The Irish Times yesterday that he was involved in a private capacity.

"If the project receives the approval of the Minister for Arts, Heritage, the Gaeltacht and the Islands, Ms de Valera, and I can finalise terms with Galway Corporation, I will be delighted to be involved," he said.

It is understood that Galway Corporation would retain the freehold, if it is able to acquire title to the ruins.

Mr Smyth is understood to favour creating a maritime museum, linked mainly to the Corrib, in the restored castle along with a craft centre.

Mr Smyth has been adviser to many prominent businessmen and public figures, ranging from Mr Dunne to the former taoiseach, Mr Charles Haughey, to the Bishop of Ferns, Dr Brendan Comiskey.

He is not a man who courts the sort of publicity he gained in his appearance at the McCracken tribunal, and in the 1997 High Court proceedings involving Mr Ben Dunne.

He is known to be appreciative of architectural quality, and has maintained an 18th-century house in Fitzwilliam Square. His company also submitted plans for Dublin's tallest building, a skyscraper on Sir John Rogerson's Quay.