Ivor Fitzpatrick obituary: High-profile Dublin solicitor with an eye for a deal

He made much of his undoubted wealth – he was reputed to be worth up to €100 million at the time of his death – from property

Born: August 5th, 1955

Died: March 24th, 2024

Ivor Fitzpatrick, who has died aged 68, was a high-profile Dublin solicitor who had a noteworthy career in law and in business, and was associated with some equally high-profile figures of his day.

Although he avoided attention in his personal life, Fitzpatrick lived for many years in a Co Wicklow castle from where, during the heyday of the Celtic Tiger, he commuted to Dublin by helicopter. His substantial wealth also facilitated his membership of a syndicate, in which he is believed to have been the prime mover, that bought the Christina O, an oceangoing motor yacht formerly owned by the Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis.

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As a young lawyer, he founded his own firm, Ivor Fitzpatrick & Co, which, while never challenging the big five legal companies (Arthur Cox, A&L Goodbody, Matheson, William Fry and McCann FitzGerald), was highly successful in its own right. It specialised in banking, corporate advice, medical negligence and personal injury, real estate and planning, and in litigation, including defamation.

He made much of his undoubted wealth – he was reputed to be worth up to €100 million at the time of his death – from property, in which he was associated with some of the country’s big players, among them Paddy McKillen, Johnny Ronan and Pat Doherty. Other business partners and law clients included Robert “Pino” Harris and Dermot Desmond.

He was a long-time supporter and loyal friend of the late Charles Haughey, whose fall from grace did not diminish Fitzpatrick’s admiration for him. He acted for Haughey during the investigations by the McCracken and Moriarty tribunals and the former taoiseach remained, in Fitzpatrick’s eyes, a “chieftain” to be admired, despite any tribunal findings against him.

Ivor Fitzpatrick was the second of three children born to Seán Ivor Fitzpatrick and Carmel Horan on Dublin’s North Circular Road in 1955. His father was a member of the RAF and the Irish Air Corps before joining Aer Lingus and later assisting with the foundation of Aer Rianta. The family moved to Terenure when Ivor was four and it wasn’t long before his entrepreneurial flair became evident. When he was still in primary school, he and a friend began selling refurbished bikes.

Education came easy to him, and he was also remembered as a talented artist and boy soprano singer. He studied Law in Trinity College while receiving his Law Society qualifications at the same time, and was apprenticed to James Fagan Solicitors on Parnell Square. This was where he met his future wife, fellow trainee Susan Stapleton.

In 1981, he founded his own law firm, and Susan joined him the following year. He operated initially from near the Pepper Canister Church on Dublin’s Mount Street before moving to more prestigious offices on the corner of Hume Street and St Stephen’s Green. As a boss, he was a hard taskmaster who didn’t suffer fools gladly, but former employees also recalled a kind and generous boss who encouraged them to be the best that they could be.

“He was a very tough lawyer,” a professional colleague recalled this week, “and very dogged on behalf of his clients.”

“If you were in business and the other side were represented by Ivor you were more than a little apprehensive,” said friend and former minister of state Conor Lenihan. “I saw quite a few senior business people wince when told that the other side was represented by Ivor.”

One of those he represented was Desmond, who became known for his robust approach to media critics, many of whom opened with trepidation letterheads sent on his behalf by Ivor Fitzpatrick & Co Solicitors.

The firm represented, with considerable success, people adversely affected in the hepatitis C blood contamination scandal, among them Brigid McCole. It acted as well for Positive Action, the hepatitis C advocacy group, during negotiations with the Department of Health, securing a statutory compensations scheme. The lead solicitor was Stapleton, a partner and head of litigation in the firm.

Notwithstanding his success in law, Fitzpatrick is believed to have made much of his wealth from property and investments. He had several joint ventures, including with McKillen and Doherty, with whom he fell out separately.

He and McKillen redeveloped a large tract of South Anne Street, a retail and hospitality hotspot linking Dublin’s Grafton and Dawson streets. A court battle was avoided when they agreed to split the assets of their company, Canton Caseys Limited, with Fitzpatrick ceding the South Anne Street properties and a Vietnam quarry to McKillen in exchange for €10 million.

A separate venture, this one with Doherty, also ended in rancour in 2008. It concerned Harcourt Developments’ property assets in London and Jersey, reputed to be worth £150 million. After a two-week court hearing, Fitzpatrick and two partners settled on terms not disclosed, at Fitzpatrick’s request.

In 2000, Fitzpatrick was instrumental, through his law firm and a separate company he owned, Sandyway Investments Limited, in buying the Christina O, helped by a €2 million loan from Michael Fingleton’s Irish Nationwide Building Society. The purchase involved, among others, the late Harris who sought to use his purchase to write off tax liabilities of over €9 million as his share of the refurbishment costs.

The 100-metre yacht, which today may be leased on a weekly basis for between €700,000 and €740,000, has a crew of 38 and can accommodate up to 34 guests in 17 cabins. At one stage in its history, the cabins were decorated and furnished by Jackie Onassis, formerly Jackie Kennedy. Following purchase by the syndicate, the yacht hosted the wedding of property developer Sean Dunne and Gayle Killilea.

Fitzpatrick’s family connection with Aer Lingus was revived in 2002 when he was appointed to its board by minister for public enterprise Mary O’Rourke. He sat on the board until December 2010 and also served as chair of the group’s audit committee.

It was during this time that he noted the inadequacy of in-flight wifi and he set up Aeronet Global with Brian Russell to address the need. Their new high-speed wireless service was recently licensed by the US Federal Communications Commission for flights in the US and is already being used on cruise vessels.

According to current company records, Fitzpatrick held 44 company directorships. They include numerous property and investment entities but also Unicef Ireland and the TobaccoFree Research Institute Ireland. Colleagues in law recalled that in his early years, Fitzpatrick was almost invariably surrounded by cigarette smoke, and he became ill with a respiratory illness in December 2021 – although subsequently never lost his enthusiasm for life.

Fitzpatrick adored his home, Castle Howard, the gothic-style, castellated 19th-century property in which he and his wife lived near the Meeting of the Waters in Avoca, Co Wicklow. Built in 1811 for the Earl of Wicklow, Lt Col Robert Howard, it was the setting for a vigorous social life in a mildly aristocratic, country estate setting.

He and Susan shared a lifelong love of horses and they set up a small breeding operation. Castle Howard Casanova, one of the horses they bred and later sold, will represent Brazil in the Paris Olympics this summer.

His funeral heard that the extent of his private generosity to charities would never be known. Condolences upon his death, both professional and personal, recalled Fitzpatrick as an amiable and generous host, a font of knowledge across a range of subjects and a man of fun. Castle Howard also facilitated his love of shooting and of dogs, one of which, Coco Bean, was remembered in his death notice, described as his “loyal canine companion”.

Ivor Fitzpatrick is survived by his wife Susan, his brother Nicky, sister Deirdre and extended family.

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