Galway man wins legal battle but still faces eviction
BY ROISIN DE ROSA
On Shop Street, Galway's main pedestrianised thoroughfare,
teaming with cosmopolitan city life, there is a little corner
house, on a patch of land measuring 18 foot by 7 foot. The house
is at least 250 years old. It has little tables outside and large
umbrellas for the rain. This is ``Thimble Castle''. It's become a
very small take-away.
Small as it may be, there is a
family of English landlords who are threatening to take the shop
away. The Mullins family, who have lived and worked in this shop
over the past 100 years, are facing eviction by the landlord, one
Isobel Davis, who claims ownership and the right to evict the
Back in 1739, Galway Corporation agreed to grant a lease on
this little plot of land to the sheriff, one Simon Trulock, no
doubt in return for some unrecorded favours he had rendered as
sheriff, or later, as coroner and burgess of the city. The rent
was one shilling a year. History does not record how this lease
turned into a freehold, if it did, and Trulock built a little
house on the land.
A century and a half later, in 1874, Brigade Surgeon Colonel
John Norman Davis's father bought some title to the premises for
the sum of £88, which was added to the considerable Davis Estate
of some 42 properties in Galway and county.
In 1894, the grandfather of Michael Mullins, who now runs the
take-away family business, took a lease on the property for £19
per annum, from which he ran a butcher's shop and reared a family
of six children. By 1899, the close of the last century, the
Mullins family had paid more in rent than the Davis family had
paid when they first bought the property. Nevertheless, the
Mullins went on paying their rent of £19 per annum to the Davis
Letter to quit
In 1978, the Mullins received a
letter from solicitors, acting on behalf of Wing Commander Davis,
the Surgeon's nephew, suggesting that the rent payable should
henceforth be £1,300 per annum, a 7000 per cent increase. On 1
January the following year, when Michael's father, aged 74, was
lying sick in his bed, a notice to quit was summarily delivered
to his mother by auctioneer Andrew Roche. He was acting on behalf
of a firm of solicitors, Blake and Kenny, of which the present
Minister of Housing, Bobby Molloy's brother is the principal.
``Imagine how it must have been for them,'' Michael Mullins
says. ``Neither my mother nor father had gone beyond fourth class
in school. My father was very sick. My mother was terrified. They
had three months to quit.'' The notice to quit was of course an
encouragement to accept the 35-year lease offered at the new
They did nothing, and the eviction never came, because by that
time the Landlord and Tenants Acts of 1978 had been passed,
giving rights to tenants to buy out the properties. There was
therefore doubt over the legality of the notice to quit.
Neither Michael Mullins' father,
William, nor his wife, Rita, knew any of this. The family sought
advice from solicitors Sands and Brophy, who sought barrister's
opinion from no less a fry than Seamus Egan, later a Supreme
Court judge, and a Galway-based barrister, Conor Fahy. They
concurred in recommending that Mullins should accept the offer of
a 35-year lease from the Davis estate.
Michael Mullins, who took over the shop in 1983, began to
realise that this had been bad advice and in fact meant that in
accepting the lease from the Davis Estate, he had foregone his
opportunity to acquire the leasehold. At the time, he could have
bought the fee simple, Michael says, for under £300, 12 times the
annual rent of £19 which he had been paying. ``They never told me
it was a ground rent the family was paying, nor did they tell me
that with a 99-year lease, I had the right to buy it out.''
Michael Mullins looked for a firm of solicitors who would take
High Court proceedings against solicitors Sands and Brophy and
the barrister Fahy, who had proffered this mistaken advice. But,
as is well known in any case where professionals are invited to
challenge fellow professionals, they were hard to find.
Advertisement for a solicitor
advertisement in the Irish Times, which said ``Solicitor wanted.
Courage essential. Money no object'' brought some 90 replies,
though it remains unclear whether it was courage or expenses
which was the attraction. Michael Mullins selected Ray Gilmartin
from Kirby and Gilmartin, and away they went with a plenary
summons in 1992, against Solicitors Sands and Brophy, and
Finally ,the case came to the Four Courts last June, listed to
be heard before Judge Peter Kelly, who has a the reputation of
being judge who doesn't suffer fools, bureaucrats or incompetents
The defendants spared themselves the publicity and settled the
very morning out of court with a payment of £75,000 damages to
Michael Mullins, split between both defendants. ``It was a great
victory, against all the odds,'' says Mullins. ``But above all
the result shows that I am a fighter and will stand my ground. I
won't concede to the injustice of all of this.''
Davis Estate carries on
Immediately after the case,
Bobby Molloy's brother, Michael Molloy, ``specifically divested
himself of the Davis Estate so far as Michael Mullins is
concerned'', and handed the file to a firm of Dublin solicitors.
Nevertheless, he continues to deal with the rest of the Davis
Estate, which is still dealing in several properties in Galway
and is hoping to realise substantial sums on what remains of the
estate, including a property up the road from Trimble Castle on
sale for around one quarter of a million pounds.
``It's the Dáil I blame for this,'' says Michael.
``They took over the republic for which men had given their
lives, and yet they have done nothing to end this usury by
absentee landlords, selling property over the heads of those who
have lived there for years. What was the republic for if it was
not to stop this injustice, and all the suffering that it brings?
``My parents endured years of hardship rearing us children. It
wasn't easy. Yet they struggled to pay the rent, and now after
all these years, Isobel Davis wants to evict us. It is a
disgraceful situation. It's time the government brought it to an
end. One thing is sure. I'll not be moving out of here.''
BY ROISIN DE ROSA