Mother’s €428,225 judgment against son ranks ahead of bank’s charge on home and lands over his €1.4m debt

Judge rejects Bank of Ireland claim that now deceased 96-year-old widow’s charge did not apply to 132-acre farm

The satisfaction of a €428,225 judgment obtained by a since deceased woman against her son for support and maintenance over 20 years must be prioritised over a bank’s charge on the family home and lands owned by him arising from his €1.4 million debt, the Court of Appeal has ruled.

The judgment allowing Ethna Ryan’s appeal, brought via a next friend, solicitor Gerard Reidy, was issued by the three-judge court this week. Final orders will be made later.

The appeal by Mrs Ryan, who died aged 96 in late 2021, was over a 2020 High Court decision that a burden registered in 2006 entitling her to a right of residence, support and maintenance extended only to her home at Bunker Hill, Cratloe, Co Clare, and not the 132-acre farm.

Ms Justice Máire Whelan concluded that the widow’s burden extended to both house and lands and ranked in priority ahead of a charge registered by Bank of Ireland over the house and lands in 2010.


Outlining the background, the judge noted that Mrs Ryan’s husband Laurence died in 2003 leaving an estate of some €2.8 million. In line with his will their only child, Bryan, was registered in 2006 as owner of the family home and lands, subject to rights of residence, maintenance and support in favour of Mrs Ryan for the duration of her life. A sum of €20,000 was also bequeathed to Mrs Ryan for her own use and benefit.

Under the Succession Act the widow had a choice between accepting the terms of the will or seeking her legal right share to one third of the net estate.

In not pursuing her legal rights it appeared the then 78-year-old relied on a letter of August 22nd, 2003, from a solicitor on behalf of her son as executor of the will. It stated, inter alia, the rights of residence, maintenance and support would be registered as a burden on the title to the property which could not be sold without her consent.

In January 2010, Bryan Ryan created a charge in favour of Bank of Ireland over the lands.

In 2015 Mrs Ryan took uncontested High Court proceedings against her son seeking orders including restraining him influencing her to give up her right of residence and requiring him to support and maintain her. She also sought orders requiring him to repair and maintain the property, but those were not part of the appeal.

In 2016 Mrs Ryan obtained judgment against him for €779,225, which valued her right of residence and support at €428,225 and the remainder for repairs to the property. In 2017 she took further proceedings to enforce the 2016 judgment in priority to the bank’s charge. The bank opposed that case and issued a counterclaim.

In 2020 the High Court ruled the widow’s burden was confined to the family home and Mrs Ryan was “perfectly entitled” to continue residing there. It said any failure to properly provide for her right to support and maintenance “lies squarely” with her son.

Mrs Ryan’s appeal centred on the High Court decision concerning the extent of her right of maintenance and support.

Ms Justice Whelan said the bank was fixed with notice of the widow’s prior burden for maintenance and support which extended over the entire lands folio. There was “clear and uncontested evidence” of non-performance and non-compliance with the obligation to maintain and support her from July 2003, she said.

Both the bank and Bryan Ryan were estopped by their respective conduct from denying Mrs Ryan’s right to have the monetised sum for maintenance and support attached to her burden in part satisfaction of her right to maintenance and support, she held.

The satisfaction of that burden, quantified as €428,225, must rank in priority to the bank’s charge, the court ruled.

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times