With a half a century of solid sales behind him, property agent Paddy Jordan knows his market. Specifically, he knows land. Some of his greatest deals over the years have been around his home turf of Kildare. The short grass county is renowned for its open plains of the Curragh and its proliferation of stud farms that have seen steady turnover, often from the last relics of the British army who clung on after Irish independence to the arrival of oil-rich sheikhs from the Middle East, which Jordan had quite the hand in.
The lush land of Kildare is prized for what lies beneath it: the limestone that adds incomparable mineral strength and density to the thoroughbreds who reside in its verdant paddocks. First taken to an auction as a child by his father, Jordan comes from a farming background in Carlow: “My father had land, but he was a butcher too.”
He boarded in Newbridge College, did a diploma in auctioneering in Rathmines, was apprenticed to Hasset and Fitzsimons, and was soon a member of the Irish Auctioneers and Valuers Institute. Approached by Gerry Slattery of Warren Estates, he opened an office for the firm in Carlow, and remained there until 1977.
Then a fortuitous offer came through Johnny Harrington, husband of horse trainer Jessica, to join the Curragh Bloodstock Agency (CBA), of which Harrington was a director. In the business of shipping horses around the globe for racing or sending Irish stallions to the southern hemisphere for the breeding season, the CBA’s sole competition was the British Bloodstock Agency.
That was very important to Sheikh Mohammed: the green, green grass, the limestone land
When the CBA’s directors decided they wanted to broaden the Irish agency’s appeal, they looked to diversify into property, and it was here that Jordan came into his own. “I set up CBA Estates in 1977, and got a name for selling bloodstock, equine, country property,” he says. As a one-stop shop for the bloodstock and equine industry, CBA Estates soon became the agents of choice for prime land and stud farms.
Jordan had found himself in the right place at the right time, and surrounded by the right people with the right connections. Arguably the most important of those people was his fellow director in the CBA, Colonel Dick Warden. A veteran of the second World War, Warden had gone on to serve with MI5 in the Middle East where he made the acquaintance of Dubai ruler and vice-president of the oil-rich United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
“He [Warden] bought the Sheikh his first horse, Hatta, which happened to win some races. Then the Sheikh got the bug, and that was the beginning of his time in Ireland. The next thing was to set up a stud here because of Ireland’s [equine] reputation internationally. That was very important: the green, green grass, the limestone land,” Jordan recalls.
When the renowned Woodpark Stud in Dunboyne, Co Meath, came on the market shortly after following the retirement of the McVeigh family from breeding, CBA arranged for Sheikh Mohammed to take a look. “We had two limos pick him up at the airport and bring him across to Dunboyne,” says Jordan.
“He looked at the place and walked the land. There was only a groom’s house on it, it was a working stud farm, and it had bred a good few winners. It was the first time he bought in Ireland, and it was a pretty big deal at the time. That was the beginning of the sheikhs’ influence on the [Irish horse racing] industry.”
As more and more of Ireland’s most prestigious studs came to the market, Jordan handled their sales. “There was Old Connell Stud, owned by Sir Edmund Loder; he was reducing his input and downsizing. Philip Marasco of Baroda Stud, [outside Newbridge], he was retiring.” But it was the sale of Kildangan, the stud farm belonging to Roderic More O’Ferrall (his brother Rory ran the well-known More O’Ferrall advertising agency) that changed Irish racing for ever. Sheikh Mohammed bought the property in 1986, and went on to acquire numerous other stud farms afterwards where he established and grew Godolphin and Darley to become the hugely successful horse breeding operations that they are today.
Today, Godolphin owns and operates five farms in Kildare, one in Meath and two in Tipperary, while Kildangan is home to the Darley stallions, and also serves as a breaking and training centre for yearlings. The stud farm, which now extends to almost 1,500 acres, is home at any given time to about 400 horses and upwards of 250 staff. Shaamit and High-Rise, winners of the Epsom Derby in 1996 and 1998 respectively, were just two of the celebrated stallions to have been born in Kildangan’s foaling unit.
The sheikhs’ interest in the Kildare studs was determined by the quality of the land. They’d look at the pedigree of the stud, the winners bred there
“Anything they bought, they restored it to its former glory, including Kildangan,” Jordan says. “Baroda is a lovely house as well. Prince Khalid Abdullah bought New Abbey House in Kilcullen. There was a good house there, but it was let go a bit. They did a good restoration on it.”
“The sheikhs’ interest in the Kildare studs was determined by the quality of the land. They’d look at the pedigree of the stud, the winners bred there, the group-one winners. Kildare has the good limestone land, that’s what they were after. It makes a difference to put bone and strength in the animal, the minerals absorbed.
“They created a lot of employment, contributed a lot to the bloodstock industry. They were prominent at the sales, Goffs and Tattersalls, and were employing more people. It put Ireland on the international map.”
So how does it feel to have contributed to such development?
“I’m not one for blowing my own trumpet, or anything like that,” he says, “but nobody was to know what the sheikhs were going to do or the influence they would come to have on the Irish racing world over the past nearly 40 years. Nobody could have foreseen it. It was quite the big deal.”
After 25 years with the CBA, Jordan took the decision to go out on his own in 1992. “I was managing director of CBA overall; I was working for the company, worrying about the company, and I decided I might as well as do it on my own. It was quite the punt to take, the kids were young. I left CBA on the August bank holiday Friday and moved house. People now tell me they thought I was mad.” But clients followed Jordan, and he had a lot of repeat sales where houses went through his hands on multiple occasions.
I decided I might as well as do it on my own. It was quite the punt to take: the kids were young
As well as some of the biggest stud farms, Jordan also handled, along with Knight Frank, the 2014 sale of Castlemartin, Tony O’Reilly’s mansion outside Kilcullen, and the media mogul’s townhouse on Fitzwilliam Square in Dublin. The sale of both properties by Jordan were triggered by the so-called “pulling of the pin” by AIB on O’Reilly’s outstanding debts to the bank of €22.5 million.
It was a move roundly criticised at the time by prominent business figures, including the billionaire Dermot Desmond, who was quick to praise O’Reilly’s acumen and unparalleled business triumphs. Desmond noted, too, the contrast between AIB’s bailout at the hands of the taxpayer and the bank’s treatment of the businessman, saying: “The Irish government showed sensitivity to the bank, and the bank should have shown the same sensitivity to Tony O’Reilly.”
Castlemartin, the one-time jewel in O’Reilly’s weighty crown, is a mansion built in the 1720s, painstakingly restored by O’Reilly and housing his extensive art collection. It sits on a picturesque bend of the river Liffey at the centre of a 750-acre stud farm. Offered to the market for €30 million on foot of the demands for repayment made by AIB, it was sold to the billionaire American media tycoon John Malone for €26.5 million in 2015.
While the sale of Castlemartin understandably attracted significant attention, O’Reilly’s disposal of his Fitzwilliam Street town house went very much below the radar with the advertising confined to Jordan’s placement of a notice on the back page of The Irish Times stating simply: “Immaculate Condition. With Mews. Email [to view].”
Jordan achieved €3.2 million for the Georgian town house on Fitzwilliam Square. The price paid represented a significant 39 per cent premium on the asking price of €2.3 million.
Jordan politely refuses to be drawn on O’Reilly’s travails with AIB, though, preferring to focus on the many business achievements of the erstwhile tycoon, from his days as chief executive and chairman of the HJ Heinz company to his invention of the Kerrygold butter brand to his decades-long control of Independent News & Media (INM). He also pays tribute to O’Reilly’s efforts with The Ireland Fund, the charity he co-founded with the late American businessman Dan Rooney, to raise cash for reconciliation projects related to the conflict in the North.
While Jordan has been involved in his fair share of multimillion-euro deals over the years, he stresses that the sale of family homes is an integral and valued part of his business. “Both are equally important,” he says. “The day you buy is the day you sell.”
The further north you go, the more expensive it is, people are coming south, the quality of life here is good
Quite apart from the suitability of its soil for stud farms and the splendour of its mansions, Kildare has of course long been established as one of Dublin’s three main commuter-belt counties, along with Meath and Wicklow. More recently, the county has come into its own as a location for major employers such as Pfizer and the Kerry Group. Jordan’s base of Newbridge, meanwhile, has seen the arrival of Lidl’s regional distribution centre and the more recent commencement of construction of Penneys’ new distribution hub. Global drinks giant Diageo has submitted a planning application for a state-of-the-art €200 million brewery.
Commenting on the development of the county, Jordan says: “So much has developed, with the M7, the M9, industry, the big employers, the motorways have lifted the likes of Naas, Newbridge, Kildare. The further north you go, the more expensive it is, people are coming south, the quality of life here is good.
“We do country, agricultural land, residential, we are handling a large development for Ballymore, in Newbridge, Station Walk.”
When asked about the future of development in the town, which is choked with traffic and challenged by an endemic shortage of school places, both primary and secondary, Jordan says: “Traffic is a nightmare. Newbridge is reaching capacity, it will push up as far as the edge of the Curragh. There are 1,000 houses being built here – I shudder to think of what it will be like trying to find school places. The scarcity of schools has seen us losing sales.
“The future? Everybody is waiting for some bubble to burst, but if there’s an undersupply of housing, it creates its own market. Employment is good. The main selling point about Newbridge is infrastructure.”
He comments that working from home is uppermost in buyers’ minds. “The first thing they want to know is what the wifi is like, and they want the extra room for the office,” he says.
But if Jordan’s buyers are working from home for their employers, it isn’t something that he intends to do himself any time soon.
“You have to meet face to face to sell a house,” he says. “You can’t beat meeting people, looking them in the eye and forming a relationship.”
“No matter what the market does, if you buy at a good address – like bad land and good land, bad land is always bad land.”