Winner of €115m goes away to think about it all

 

Dolores McNamara's hands began to shake. It was a day after her lottery win and she had just sat down with a solicitor, who was telling her of the opportunities, responsibilities and dangers ahead. After he spoke, she looked at her hands which by now were trembling uncontrollably.

Up until that point mother of six from Garryowen had been a picture of composure, even if most people around her had been losing their head.

Her best friend Imelda Eaton had been crying her eyes out. Her sister Deirdre O'Donovan had felt hysterical. Her neighbours at the Track Bar, where she found out she had won on Friday night, were wild-eyed with delight.

"After speaking to the solicitor, we realised she was in shock up until that point," says Niall Purcell, Deirdre's partner.

"When she got the legal advice, it sunk in. If she had won €2 million, you could deal with it. Maybe give up your job or retire. But that kind of money, it's almost dangerous. Very dangerous. She's gone away for a few days to think about it all."

Just how €115 million will begin to affect Dolores (45), a former dressmaker, her husband Adrian, a bricklayer, their six children in aged 13 to 27, and three grandchildren, is impossible to say.

It is also certain to have an unfathomable impact on the wider circle of friends and neighbours surrounding her in the working-class suburb of Garryowen, a patchwork of housing estates on the southern approach to Limerick city.

"She's a very level-headed woman," says Imelda. "But that kind of money? Who knows . . . We're working-class people, we wouldn't know what to do with it."

A day after the win there is still a giddy afterglow at the Track Bar, in the shadow of the local greyhound stadium, where Dolores and her friends realised she had won on Friday night. There are shrieks of laughter as they watch the television news on Saturday afternoon with snippets of local comment from the shop-owner, barwoman and neighbours.

At the bar are Deirdre and Niall, Imelda and Dolores's daughter, Kevanne, who are laughing in rapid bursts about the frenzied chaos of the night before.

The Friday night was just another ordinary night where Dolores and her friends gathered for a few pints. Most of her friends were involved in a small Lotto syndicate, although she hadn't taken part.

There were various quirks and twists of fate which led to buy the ticket and to be in with a one-in-76 million chance of winning the jackpot.

One of them was that when she called around to Imelda's house, she was in bed, so she went to the shop to kill some time.

"I was in bed - I had been up since six in the morning," says Imelda (45), who works as a shop assistant at the Fairview filling station on the Ennis Road.

"So she went over to the shop. She'd never played EuroMillions before. So she says to the girl behind the counter, 'can you do a quickpick on that?'. 'You can', says the girl, so she hands over her €2. That's how it happened."

Imelda and Dolores met up later in the evening. Dolores wasn't in good form and they talked about a few problems she was having.

They ate two cream buns, joked about putting on weight and decided to go to the Track Bar for a few pints before closing.

It was 10.30pm. After ordering two pints of Heineken, the pair sat down with some friends of theirs in the lounge of the Track Bar. They got round to talking about the lottery draw and Dolores asked one of the women to check her numbers.

"She asked Pauline [Greer] to check them," says Imelda. "We'd all done a quickpick between us and hadn't won. Then Pauline says to her, 'they're the right numbers'. Dolores says, 'yeah, right'. Next they checked the numbers at the bar and everyone's checking them. It was pandemonium . . . then Dolores says, 'I'm going for a fag!"

As word spread that she had won, the pub was filled with shrieks of laughter and roars of celebration. Cameras flashed and mobile phones began to ring. Imelda started crying. Outside in the darkness, Dolores smoked a cigarette, still trying to absorb what had just happened.

"When she finally realised she had won," says Imelda, "she turned to me and said, 'I'm going to buy a house for Kevanne [her 21-year-old daughter], who's renting a house and has kids herself."

Amid the celebration, there was sudden panic about the lottery slip. What do you do with a piece of paper worth €115 million? Where do you put it? How do you keep it safe? "We met my son who said to me, 'where's the ticket?'," says Imelda. "I said, 'it's here, in my pocket.' He asks if the whole pub knows, and I said they did. 'Get in the car - now,' he says.

"We rang the guards for advice, who wouldn't believe him. He was getting annoyed, so I took the phone. I was roaring crying, totally hysterical, so then they knew we were telling the truth." When they arrived at Henry Street Garda station, the gardaí were kind and helpful, she says, but couldn't keep it in safe for insurance reasons.

Gardaí phoned around to solicitors and eventually contacted a bank manager, who arranged for it to be placed in a vault.

Back at the Track Bar, family and friends began to gather. Dolores's husband, Adrian, a bricklayer, who is recovering from a triple cardiac bypass operation, joined in the celebrations.

Paddy Tobin, one of a family of pub owners, produced bottles of champagne and the group partied late into the night.

"She bought a round of drinks," says Imelda, "and got worried when she realised she only had €35 on her. Of course it didn't matter, they were on the house, but she was still thinking that way."

At a quiet breakfast the next morning at the Moose Head, a pub owned by the Tobin family, Paddy Tobin organised for her to meet a solicitor at a nearby hotel.

As well as advising them of the impact such money could have on their lives, the solicitor recommended they go away for a few days, out of the public gaze and gather their thoughts.

"Reality won't kick in until she gets the cheque," says Niall, who met her shortly before she left. "Then she'll turn around and say, 'what the hell do I do?' She'll need all the best advice in the world to deal with it."

Wealth is not something to which Dolores McNamara's family are accustomed. Her father, a tailor, and her mother, a nurse, emigrated to England in the 1950s, but returned to Limerick several years later. "They were lovely, caring parents," says Deirdre, a mother of four. They worked hard all their lives."

Imelda inherited her father's tailoring skills and became a dressmaker. After leaving school she set up her own shop, Buttons and Bows, at William's Court Mall. She married and left the job when she had the first of her six children, Dawn (27). Gary was next (26), followed by Kim (24), Kevanne (21), Dean (15) and Lee (13).

Dolores, her husband and younger children live in a modest semi-detached house in St Jude's Park on St Patrick's Road, an estate close to Garryowen.

"This isn't what you'd call a very well off area.There are lots of plumbers, plasterers, that kind of thing," Niall says. "There used to be a lot of unemployment, but the Celtic Tiger and Dell computers has helped a lot."

Neighbours say Dolores is very popular and they are delighted a person so well-liked scooped the prize. Deirdre says: "Everyone knows everyone else here and I think people are really and truly genuinely happy for her." Kevanne adds: "As a mother, she's been great. She's always there for me. Whatever we needed. She's brilliant."

Among friends, she is appreciated for her capacity to listen and offer advice. "She's always there for me," Imelda says.

"You can tell her anything and she'll never repeat it. And she's honest - she tell you things you don't necessarily like either."

Dolores returned a few weeks ago from a package holiday to the Turkish resort of Kusadasi, where she avoided the recent terrorist attack. She had been talking about returning back to work, according to friends.

For Dolores, who is so shy that she normally protests at being included in a photograph, they are hopeful she can adjust to her new-found wealth.

The requests from family members so far are reasonable enough. Kevanne is looking forward to a new house, while Lee has asked for a white horse.

"She is sensible, although that amount of money is a lot for anyone," says Imelda. "That will be difficult to deal with. It's not so much what she'll do with it, but how people will deal with her from now on."