Steve Jordan talks to Gerry Lane about his Irish project
Gerry and Virginia Lane are no strangers to diversification. Although they are known the world over for their work with Asian Tigers Mobility – Philippines and Indonesia, that’s just a small part of their story. Even so, when Gerry sat at a lone table in a hotel in Ireland, one cold day in February 2013, he never imagined how his world was about to change. But change it did.
The hotel was called Tinakilly Country House, in County Wicklow, in an area known as The Garden of Ireland, just south of Dublin. With such a billing, in a country that is stunningly beautiful almost everywhere you look, the place is going to be pretty special. It was a regular haunt for Gerry and Virginia as Gerry’s sister lives close by and they have used the hotel regularly over the last 25 years while visiting the family.
This day started just as any other except that there was nobody else in the restaurant. The staff looked dejected. The recession had hit Ireland very hard in 2008. The hotel had started to lose money. By February 2013, with the economy still in the doldrums, it had gone into receivership and the bank was keen to find a buyer. The staff were demoralised, assuming they were about to lose their jobs. The place was a shadow of its former glory.
And glorious it had been. The mansion was built in 1883 by Captain Robert Charles Halpin, born in Wicklow himself and the captain of Brunel’s Great Eastern. It was under his command that the ship had been responsible for successfully laying trans-Atlantic communications cables across the Atlantic between Ireland and Canada. It was a difficult job and there had been many failures but Halpin was rewarded handsomely by the government for his success. So handsomely in fact that he was able to build Tinakilly as his family home. He lived there until his death on 20 January, 1894.
“I wasn’t looking for an investment or a new project,” said Gerry, “but when I heard that this beautiful Victorian mansion was up for sale, and that I had the means to buy it, my imagination was sparked.” He investigated and negotiated and, later that year, he and his business partner Denis Connelly, who had extensive experience in the hotel business, bought Tinakilly. Denis now runs the hotel day-to-day.
“It was a gamble,” Gerry admitted, ”but I had some faith in the Irish economy and figured it was worth the risk. It proved to be one of the best investments I have ever made. The Irish economy is booming again now with 7.8% growth last year, five times the EU average.”
Tinakilly stands in fifteen acres of elevated land just two miles from the town of Wicklow. Its name comes from the Gaelic meaning House of the Woods which is fortuitous as the site was previously owned by a botanist who planted the whole estate with an arboretum that included Californian Redwood, Australian Eucalyptus, Japanese Maple and other exotica. The outlook from the hotel still benefits from his skill and perception.
Gerry and Denis have now restored the hotel into a thriving business once again; a feast for the senses and a glorious retreat for the travel weary or just for those wanting to spend time somewhere extraordinary. Gerry’s sister, a keen gardener, has transformed the grounds, planting 250,000 flowers and regenerating its former splendour.
It wasn’t the first diversification for Gerry and Virginia. They already have a large record storage business and Gerry admits that his real financial success has come from his investments in property worldwide. But this project, in view of the circumstances, and the location in Gerry’s homeland, is perhaps the most satisfying.
Has Gerry learned any lessons? Would he have done anything different, with hindsight? “Yes,” he said, “I’d have bought more hotels in Ireland while the market was depressed. All the bargains have gone now.”
So what’s the next project? Gerry is not making any guarantees but Virginia has got her eye on Glin Castle, another struggling hotel in the far west or Ireland, miles from anywhere. Exquisite of course, but a business proposition? Wouldn’t it be nice!