A Circuit Court Judge described as ‘most regrettable’ a court action involving three Westport brothers who found themselves involved in an ‘extremely bitter contest’ over the rights to a share of the family home and pub located at the Octogan in Westport.
Seamus and Dr Seán Hoban brought the action against their brother Joseph claiming they owned a share of their family home and pub, MJ Hoban’s, after Joseph bought the pub from his sisters, Claire and Antoinette, who ran the pub for over 30 years.
However, Judge Raymond Groake found that they had failed to prove that they were legally entitled to a share and dismissed their claim.
Joseph Hoban of 49 Pembroke Lane, Dublin, claimed he was the beneficial owner of the pub after his father, Michael, died suddenly in 1973, claiming he signed the pub over to him in 1972. However, Seamus Hoban of 3 Altamont Mews, Altamont Street, Westport, and Dr Seán Hoban of Garden Flat 2, 57 Pembroke Road, Dublin 4, claimed that the seven siblings in the family each had a share in the pub and disputed the suggestion it was signed over to Joseph.
Michael Hoban died in 1973 without leaving a will but before he died he had transferred the licence to Joseph Hoban, who claimed his father also assigned him ownership of the premises. However, he said in court that he did not tell any of his siblings about the transfer of ownership until 2009, and that the legal documents to prove this were now lost.
The plaintiffs claimed that the only document signed by their father was a 35-year-lease. This was denied by Joseph.
During the case, Judge Groarke asked on a number of occasions for the two parties to try to settle their differences out of court for the good of the family, but they failed to come to an agreement.
The Hoban family was described as a ‘united family’ who took care of each other until Claire and Antoinette decided they wanted to sell the premises and retire. Seamus and Seán Hoban claimed they had no problem with this and they had agreed to sell it and split the proceeds with one third each going to the two girls and the remaining third going to the other siblings.
Seamus claimed in evidence that Joseph was the only person objecting to this and that it led to bitter conflicts between Seamus and Joseph with the two brothers taking private prosecutions against each other.
A court order was also taken out against Seamus which prevented him from talking to any of his siblings.
The pub was eventually bought by Joseph for close to €1 million in trust for Screenlink Healthcare, a company of which his son, Daniel, is director.
Following the death of Michael Hoban, the pub was closed for a period of time in the 1970s until it was opened in the late 1970s by Claire Hoban, who had lived in Canada for a period. A company, MJ Hoban Family Ltd, was set up in 1983 to run the pub, with Claire and Joseph the two shareholders. Seamus and Seán claimed they were informed by a solicitor that they were directors in the company, but this was disputed by Joseph Hoban, who said they were not and they never asked about it.
Michael Hobans’s wife, Ann, died in 1988. In the early 1990s, the freehold of the pub was bought from the King estate by MJ Hoban Family Ltd.
Over the course of three days, the court heard that there were seven children in the Hoban family, with five of the seven still alive. Dr Seán Hoban told the court he lived away from Westport for much of his life, but it was his understanding that the two girls would run the pub and that the rest of the family had residential rights to stay in their family home.
Joseph Hoban later transferred his share to his sister Antoinette. When asked by Judge Groarke why he did so, he replied that his mother had asked that the ‘two girls’ be looked after and they should have ‘the shop for life’.
Seamus Hoban explained that he worked in construction in the US and that it was his understanding that Joseph’s name was put on the licence to allow his father to apply for the old age pension. He said he believed he was entitled to one seventh of his father’s estate.
Under cross examination from Tim Dixon, counsel for Joseph Hoban, Seamus admitted that he borrowed money from his brother and that he had money problems. He described as insulting the suggesting he was using this issue as an opportunity to cause trouble in the hope someone would write him a cheque.
Joseph Hoban explained that in the early 1970s, he was the only member of the family who regularly spent time in Westport, as he worked as a medical rep in the west of Ireland. His father, he said, signed over the interest in the property to him and he ‘accepted reluctantly’.
He explained he could not throw his sisters out and paid them the money out of a promise to his mother to look after them.
Under cross-examination from Eoin Garavan, counsel for the plaintiffs, Joseph Hoban denied there was a 35-year lease even though it had been mentioned in e-mails received by his siblings and in letters from his solicitor. He said he kept the ownership of the pub a secret for so long because he did not want to hurt anyone.
In his ruling, Judge Groarke said that the family understanding was that Claire and Antoinette would be looked after by running the pub, and the family could return and stay on holiday, but this did not grant any of the siblings legal authority to reside in the property.
He said the absence of documents from Michael Hoban to Joseph was regrettable and that he could not make a ruling on this. However, he said that MJ Hoban Family Ltd had bought the freehold and that the two shareholders were Claire and Antoinette, and that he was satisfied that at the time the property was sold, they were the beneficial owners of the property. He said that Joseph had given his share to Antoinette and had no beneficial interest in the company when the property was bought by him for Screenlink.