At home with Sean Mulryan

People Editor Paul Healy reports from Sean Mulryan’s Ardenode Stud Farm  It isn’t every day (or year) that you get invited into the home of one of Ireland’s richest men. A man whose wealth (well, his company’s at least) has variously been estimated at €800m, €1 billion or even more. A man who lives with his family in a magnificent mansion, which nestles deep in the heart of a 240-acre stud farm. A man whose business empire is stretching across Europe with remarkable speed. A businessman who – in light of his UK property interests – the Sunday Telegraph claimed stands to benefit more than any other individual from the awarding of the 2012 Olympic Games to London.     So – even if it was a Monday (one of the People’s busy days) – I accepted the invite!   The invitees were mainly racing journalists from the national newspapers, radio and television. A few travelled from the UK. The official proceedings related to Ballymore Properties’ sponsorship of a fifth day at the Irish National Hunt Festival in Punchestown (on Saturday, April 26, 2008). Of particular interest for the Roscommon press was the prospect of a rare insight into the life of the ‘lord’ of the stunning Ardenode Stud. The man from Oran, Co. Roscommon, the remarkable Sean Mulryan.    Who is Sean Mulryan? Sean Mulryan is arguably one of the most successful Roscommon people of all time. Born in Oran, he left school at 17 and became a bricklayer – he set up his own company at the age of twenty-six and today he is the driving force behind the one of Europe’s biggest property developers, his company, the Ballymore Group.     Sean Mulryan doesn’t normally do interviews – one recent newspaper profile of him actually used the word ‘reclusive’ – but on Monday of this week he fielded questions from a range of media organisations, including the Roscommon People. True to form he didn’t say a great deal when faced with the media, but the Oran man did comment on his financial support for Sunderland F.C., his Cheltenham runners (or lack of them) and his hope that 2008 would be a successful year for Roscommon football (yes, the Roscommon People sneaked that question in).    This Monday morning with a difference, this dalliance with a different world, began with the long drive from Roscommon, where Mulryan the property mogul was moulded, into ‘Ballymore heartland’ and the affluent pastures which are synonymous with Mulryan’s business empire.    At 10.30 on Monday morning Punchestown racecourse was almost deserted, the barren sight on this chilly but beautiful day quite a contrast from the day last May when hundreds of Roscommon people attended the first Roscommon GAA fund-raiser to be held in conjunction with a race meeting at the ‘home of Irish National Hunt racing."    In the press room, the racing ‘hacks’ are gathering, a motley but friendly enough crew, all male, the ‘scribes’ and broadcasters fussed over by p.r. people and all breaking into chit-chatting groups while largely ignoring a promotional DVD for Ballymore on a screen above them.    Soon a coach is boarded and we are on our way from the racecourse to the nearby Ardenode Stud. The journey will take about ten minutes or so and our destination is a 240-acre stud farm which is home to the Mulryans. The (very) long driveway is flanked by spacious fields and large trees and the ambience you associate with stately homes or castle grounds. Serenity and calmness descend. The outside world is…outside. We reach the main buildings, where a dozen or so vehicles are parked. Disembarking, we walk to a spectacular stableyard area. Statues of horses are propped on beautifully manicured lawns. A row of horses eye us from within their stables.    We are greeted by a smiling Paddy Aspell and Herve Barjot, two of Mulhern’s key racing men. There are words of welcome from Aspell, who describes the Stud farm as a place of "rest and recuperation" for horses. "Sean" he says of the as-yet-unseen Roscommon-born tycoon, "dug a lake here five years ago. He’s very much into conservation, any tree that falls is replaced by ten. The River Liffey runs by. There is a walkway over there (he points to his left) which runs by the Liffey….you could go down there with the biggest problems in the world but you will emerge rejuvenated."    He invites us to follow him, and we do, all twenty or so journalistic guests (we are later joined by about the same number of Ballymore, Punchestown and Horse Racing Ireland personnel) until we come to the front of the mansion which is home to the Mulryan family, and which, for all its vastness, is dwarfed by the timeless surrounds.    We are welcomed inside a ‘wing’ of the mansion, a building which is reserved for entertaining guests and which incorporates a bar and dining area. The view from the building, past the tables where chefs are preparing our dinner, is of a magnificent outdoor swimming pool.    The walls, and those leading upstairs, are adorned with framed photographs of the Mulryan family and of racing-related images. In the bathrooms the Mulryan racing ‘colours’ – Roscommon’s – are framed and displayed with pride.     After a half hour or so the man from Oran walks into the room, and most heads turn his way. Sean is in jeans, shirt and jacket (no tie) and is the picture of relaxation.    A beautiful Dinner follows some brief speeches. Finally the only man who could really have got us all here imparts some words of wisdom.   Mulryan speaks of his interest in racing. He ‘divides’ his horses between France and Ireland these days, leaving the best of them in the hands of top trainers like Michael O’Brien. Racing Manager Herve Barjot supervises his French interests. Mulryan is now a major player in the horseracing business.    Mulryan speaks quietly, choosing his words carefully. Asked about his interests in France, he says: "I do business in France. I went to Deaville one year and I liked it. So I put a horse in training there and it’s just gone from strength to strength." He has enjoyed great success with various horses in France, but they have not made the same impact in these parts. "I have about the same amount of horses in France as in Ireland, I just seem to be luckier in France at the moment." He elaborates and opens up a little. "We’re changing the policy. We’ve decided you can’t keep them on the go for twelve months, so next year we hope to rob a few from Herve, bring them over here and train them for Cheltenham. That’s every man’s dream…who loves jump racing…to have a winner at the Festival. I enjoy Galway, I enjoy Listowel, but at the end of the day what I’d love most of all is to win a good race at Cheltenham."    He is not having a lot of luck ahead of Cheltenham 2008 however, with In Compliance likely to be ruled out through injury.    Asked about another of his horses, Forget the Past, he says: "The plan is to run him in the (Aintree) Grand National, more to have a runner than thinking he has a chance of winning.’    Asked if he applies the same principles to racing as he does to his business interests, Mulryan doesn’t break stride and answers in the tone of a self-assured business giant: "You HAVE to. You have to have the same principles, the same business approach. There are some people who are hugely successful in the racing business. It depends on the way you resource it."     I change the subject from horseracing to gaelic football. What are his hopes for Roscommon football in 2008?    "I think John Maughan is building a good team," Mulryan answers. "It takes time to build a good team. The (All-Ireland) minor success in 2006 was great. Last year the minors went close again, they were unlucky. So I am hopeful."    These are important sentiments, given Mulryan’s long-standing sponsorship of the Roscommon senior team. "I am pleased to sponsor the Roscommon team" he tells the People, adding that he is happy to continue to provide that sponsorship into the foreseeable future.   He attended the Roscommon GAA fund-raising day in Punchestown last year and is looking forward to the 2008 version being another success (it takes place on 24th of April, two days before the Ballymore 25th anniversary Hurdle is run). Mulryan said on Monday that gaelic football has always been his first sporting love, ever since "I played as a young lad in Oran." He listed his sporting passions in this order: gaelic football, horses, rugby and soccer.    Mention of soccer prompted inevitable questions about his rumoured involvement in the Irish consortium at Sunderland FC. He confirms his role, saying he is an admirer of both Niall Quinn and Roy Keane, and adding that he was "happy to help out."     Journalists from the ‘nationals’ have spotted this brief diversion by the ‘main man’ and are circling again. There’s just time to ask him one or two final, ‘Sean the man’ as opposed to ‘Sean the business tycoon’, questions.    How does he relax? He is reputedly a keen golfer.    "Well, I don’t get to play much golf unfortunately, perhaps just four or five times a year. I’ve got business to attend to…and a family!"    And how important is maintaining his Roscommon links?    "Very important. I get back to Oran as often as possible, in fact I’m going down to Roscommon this weekend. I get down to Oran regularly, probably once a month. I have a lot of friends in Roscommon."    Sean Mulryan matched the popular depiction of him as a modest, unassuming man, who, while friendly with Bill Clinton, Bono and countless other ‘celebrities,’ remains as happy in the company of old friends in Roscommon as he is with the social and business circles he moves in.